Competitiveness Council pushes research agenda
The simplification of research programmes in Europe was the focal point for the research ministers of the 27 European Member States at the 2982nd Competitiveness Council meeting on 3 December in Brussels. They also discussed the goals to be set out in the post-2010 Lisbon Strategy, and interaction between research and research-based innovation. 'Issues relating to research and innovation are fundamental for Europe's competitiveness,' said Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research, Tobias Krantz, who chaired the meeting together with the Swedish Minister for Consumer Policy, Nyamko Sabuni. 'Today's research is tomorrow's prosperity.' Among the major decisions taken during this meeting was a resolution on the enhanced governance of the European Research Area (ERA). In its resolution, the Council recognises 'the need for an efficient and enhanced governance for strategic policy development and decision-making in the ERA, in which the Union and the Member States demonstrate more leadership and commitment for the achievement of the ERA Vision 2020 and the implementation of the post-2010 EU strategy for competitiveness and growth. Guiding principles should be simplicity, efficiency and transparency, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.' In order to achieve this, the ministers found that it is essential to develop more coherent policymaking at European as well as at Member State level by establishing more efficient interaction between the three components of the Knowledge Triangle, namely education, research and innovation. In addition, cooperation and coordination of ERA-related activities should be facilitated and the administrative burden reduced, while ensuring a more systematic, broader and structured consultation of relevant stakeholders, and improving communication. On a more specific level, the Council supports a more proactive role for the Scientific and Technical Research Committee (CREST) 'as an ERA Policy Committee providing strategic timely advice to the Council, the Commission and the Member States on its own initiative or on the request of the Council or the Commission'. With regard to future priorities for European research and research-based innovation, the Council reaffirms Europe's dedication to research and research-based innovation. 'A limited set of ambitious quantitative and qualitative targets, together with the corresponding indicators, should be considered in the context of the post-2010 EU strategy for competitiveness and growth and the implementation of ERA, reflecting the reaffirmed commitment to transforming the EU into a leading knowledge-based society,' the conclusions read. The Council calls on Member States and the Commission to initiate a process during 2010 that will help identify priorities for the future European research and research-based innovation activities, while consulting with stakeholders across policy areas. The ministers also asked for a review of ERA-related instruments that shall serve as a basis for improving and simplifying the 'ERA landscape'. In this context, the Commission and Member States should take into account synergies between the different EU funding programmes, including the Framework Programmes (FPs), the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and others. In its further conclusions, the Competitiveness Council stressed the importance of the field of information and communication technology (ICT). Efforts should be directed at making Europe a leader in ICT research and ICT infrastructures by removing obstacles to the formation and growth of new ICT companies and by attracting both investors and ICT professionals. The Council urges the Commission and the Member States to better coordinate their efforts in support of ICT research and development, especially by sharing strategies in essential fields, such as research and innovation in broadband communications and others. The ministers also adopted conclusions on a new joint initiative on combating neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer's. Member States should develop a common vision and a Strategic Research Agenda, while the Commission should act as a facilitator and identify opportunities to contribute to the efforts with complementary measures as well as possible forms of consultation and collaboration. An estimated 8.6 million people in Europe suffer from Alzheimer's disease, making up the largest group of patients with neurodegenerative diseases. Hence, the Council stressed in its conclusions that 'neurodegenerative' diseases represent one of the main causes of disabilities of the elderly, and that the number of people suffering from these diseases is expected to rise drastically by 2020, due to increased life expectancy and a decreasing ratio of working to retired population.