Teething problems with new FP6 instruments to be expected, agrees automotive industry
The road industry's experiences of the new instruments introduced under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) were described as 'both a nightmare and a dream' at the annual European council for automotive research and development (EUCAR) on 13 November. The antonyms were used by Horst Soboll, director of research at Daimler Chrysler and member of the EU research advisory board (EURAB), but summed up the different experiences of those present with regard to Integrated Projects (IPs) and Networks of Excellence (NoEs). Dr Soboll highlighted over subscription, the 20 to 30 per cent decrease to the proposed budget during the negotiation phase, the vague definition of NoEs and the time to be spent auditing as amounting to a nightmare. However, he emphasised that the support received from the Commission was a 'dream'. A number of participants claimed that teething problems were to be expected, simply because the instruments are new, but many also spoke of the potential that the new instruments offer. Speaking on behalf of the Commission, head of unit for surface transport Christos Tokamanis stressed that the effectiveness cannot be measured until the policies behind these new tools have been understood. He explained that the new instruments were designed in response to fragmentation, to guarantee accountability, and to encourage a new level of governance in EU research, which ensures the involvement of industrial leaders. 'If you look at the objectives of the programme (integrated safety and the next generation of powertrains), you will see that we have achieved a major funding capability. Projects with funding of more than 30 million euro will start on 1 January. We were able to target and to mobilise, and we haven't forgotten critical technologies.' Dr Soboll reminded participants that the EU funded framework programmes are a very small part of publicly funded research, and called on the research community to think more broadly about research collaboration. 'The open method of coordination is the answer,' claimed Dr Soboll, a view supported by Paul Mehring from Eureka, who argued that more cooperation is essential to the principal question of 'who will win the competitive game?' 'Let's create a board, let's come together and make it happen and really create critical mass,' he said. UK MEP Malcolm Harbour also supported this view, giving the example of fuel cells, which he believes would be much more effectively tackled at the global level instead of within many smaller projects at national level. National governments often have their own reasons for launching national programmes, he said: 'National programmes are often designed for political reasons, to show that governments are aware of the issues. I'm afraid this does happen sometimes.' Mr Harbour also took the opportunity to tell the Commission and industry representatives that the European Parliament became much more involved in research policy during negotiations on FP6, and therefore has an interest in the programme's development and success. 'We don't want to be cut out of the loop,' he said. 'We're keen to take up issues raised, either formally or informally.'