Small and medium sized enterprise (SME) participation in selected Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) proposals from the first call in the priority thematic areas corresponds to 13 per cent of the available budget, according to Xabier Goenaga, head of unit at the Commission's Research DG. In an interview with CORDIS News, Mr Goenaga called the figures 'encouraging', but explained that the Commission would be taking steps to improve them further. The target for SME involvement in the programme set by the Commission is 15 per cent. 'These numbers are encouraging, but not sufficient. We will have to make efforts to improve them in the future,' said Mr Goenaga. He explained that the first initiative the Commission would take would be to closely monitor contract negotiations from the first call so as to ensure that the 13 per cent figure still stands at the end of this process. Of particular importance are those consortia that face cuts to their proposed budgets. Mr Goenaga also outlined further corrective measures planned by the Commission to boost the number of small companies participating in FP6. One involves the publication of 'topping up calls', inviting SMEs to join established Integrated Projects (IPs). 'This represents a very efficient way for SMEs to apply for participation in FP6, as the consortium is already up and running and requires minimum effort on their part,' according to Mr Goenaga. Another proposal is to extend the use of an instrument already applied in the third priority thematic area to further areas of FP6. In the first calls for proposals under the nanotechnology, materials and production processes priority, a 40 million euro call was published for SME Integrated Projects (SME-IPs). SME-IPs are established in areas of particular interest to small companies, and are characterised by SME participation of at least 50 per cent. SME-IPs are smaller than regular IPs, and while large companies can participate in the consortium, they must be coordinated by small companies with strong research capacities. With the help of data provided by the SME-Interservice Task Force, which is monitoring the progress of SME participation in FP6 calls for proposals, the Commission has been able to identify priority thematic areas where SMEs are under represented, although this will not affect the manner in which corrective action is taken. 'Priority areas such as life sciences, aeronautics, food quality and safety and global change have a somewhat lower participation of SMEs, but all seven thematic areas will take corrective actions, even those that achieved their targets,' said Mr Goenaga. Asked what Member States could do to maximise the participation of their small businesses in the framework programme, Mr Goenaga stressed the importance of creating both national and international SME support networks. Smaller companies require help in identifying their research and innovation needs, as well as potential industrial partners with which to cooperate, he said. Member States should also support SMEs submitting FP6 proposals, both through financial instruments and the provision of consultancy services. Finally, Mr Goenaga indicated that the participation of SMEs from the candidate and acceding countries in the first call for proposals had been generally good, although he believes that their level of participation in the new instruments can be improved. 'The Commission, together with representatives from the candidate countries, is considering options to improve participation in the new instruments, but it should be noted that this is not just the case for SMEs, but for organisations of all sizes.