The launching of the Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998), recently adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, comes at a crucial time for the future of Europe and European research. With a budgetary allocation of ECU 12,300 million, and a reserve budget of ECU 700 million to be released possibly in 1996, this programme covers, for the first time, the whole of Community research for the next five years. It will include activities on international cooperation, the exploitation and dissemination of results, and the mobility of researchers, thereby increasing the coherence and impact of the research activities. Implemented through twenty specific programmes, it must face three major challenges with which European science and technology are today confronted. The first challenge concerns Europeans directly. At a time when unemployment in the European Union exceeds 10% of the active population, the Fourth Framework Programme must contribute to achieving the objectives identified in the White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment, which presents RTD as one of the essential factors in the process of economic revival and the creation of jobs in Europe. By supporting major research projects, by encouraging the transfer of technologies and by giving concrete expression to the results of research, through increased dissemination and exploitation by means of new products, the Fourth Framework Programme must contribute towards generating new markets and new jobs in a variety of key sectors. The second challenge concerns European research. At a time when science and technology are expected to make a contribution to solving major present-day problems, it is important to coordinate the research efforts of Member States, to concentrate on a limited number of agreed issues and technologies with a multi-sectoral impact, and to optimize the investments made. Coordination, cooperation and exploitation: these are three priority objectives of the Fourth Framework Programme. The third challenge concerns the impact of RTD on Community policies and, more generally, on society as a whole. In relation to this important issue, the Fourth Framework Programme has introduced a variety of innovations. In accordance with the Maastricht Treaty, research activities carried out under the Fourth Framework Programme will contribute greatly to the definition and implementation of other Community policies. Consequently, for the first time, a specific research programme will be devoted to transport, with the aim of developing an efficient and environment-friendly trans-European network. The implementation of a programme of socio-economic research is another important innovation. It must contribute towards developing the social application of new technologies and support research in the fields of education and training, integration and social exclusion. This programme must also contribute towards improving the impact of technologies on society and forecasting future priorities. The Fourth Framework Programme, through its implementation mechanisms, will contribute towards the adoption of a genuine common policy on science and technology in Europe.