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Mrs. Cresson outlines Community action in the field of research at BRITE/EURAM'95

Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for science, research and development, addressed the BRITE/EURAM'95 conference which took place in Vienna, Austria, on the 12 October 1995. The following is a translation of extracts of her intervention at the conference: On the to...

Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for science, research and development, addressed the BRITE/EURAM'95 conference which took place in Vienna, Austria, on the 12 October 1995. The following is a translation of extracts of her intervention at the conference: On the topic of European research, Mrs. Cresson said that the research environment in Europe is characterized by two crucial weaknesses. Firstly, Europe invests less in research than its main competitors and, secondly, this investment is spread too widely, reducing the effectiveness of research efforts. The percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to research is 2% in Europe, compared with 2.7% in the United States and 2.8% in Japan. In fact, Europe spent three times less on research in 1981 than Japan. The consequences of this situation for European industry are self-evident. When Europe manages to concentrate its efforts, the results are excellent, for example in the case of GSM. However, in other sectors, for example large-format LCDs, Europe has been unable to convert its scientific advances into commercial successes. Mrs. Cresson identified the steps which are needed to overcome these impediments to the competitiveness of European industry. These are: - Cooperation between research and industry must be improved to overcome the traditional compartmentalization of the scientific world and the industrial sector in Europe; - Resources and efforts must be concentrated on specific priorities. It is increasingly evident that the future competitiveness of enterprises and economies will be determined by a limited number of key technologies: . The information and communications technologies, in view of their knock-on effect in different sectors; . Biotechnologies, which can revolutionize the health and agro-food sectors; . New materials, whose applications will have considerable innovatory effects for the aeronautics and automobile industries. In this context, Mrs. Cresson commented that "it is clear that the Fourth Framework Programme includes too many priorities, currently covering approximately 20 research areas. BRITE/EURAM and the Task Forces Mrs. Cresson said that BRITE/EURAM III is a first attempt at Community level, but a highly important one, at overcoming Europe's difficulties in the research field. Its approach is based on applying the new technologies and new materials to the manufacturing industry. One example of this is a research project designed to develop new materials from bio-degradable polymers to provide bio-artificial support for skin grafts. This project, which includes six partners from three Member States and has a total cost of ECU 4.5 million, should place European industry amongst the leaders in the bio-materials sector. BRITE/EURAM has developed collaborative networks between research institutions and industry. The programme was launched last year after consultation with over 700 representatives from industry. Over 8000 partners, of which 6000 were enterprises, responded to the last call for proposals. SMEs are also participating actively in research projects under the programme, primarily as suppliers or users of new technologies for developing products and processes of high added value. Activities pursued under CRAFT also cover all the specific programmes of the Fourth Framework Programme and show a staggering increase, rising from ECU 70 million for the last five years to ECU 750 million under the Fourth Framework Programme, of which one third is accounted for by BRITE/EURAM. The positive results of this approach are evident from the impact which BRITE/EURAM has had on European industry: a systematic analysis of projects completed since 1990 shows that one ECU spent on industrial research generates on average six ECU in terms of profits in the five years which follow the end of research activities. Another feature to be emphasized is the priority given to multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral projects, which explore all aspects of a specific technological line. The automobile and aeronautics industries have come together to propose a series of coordinated projects applying information technologies for the development of new products and for organizing production. This type of research should reduce development costs by half and increase manufacturing productivity by the same proportion. The Community needs to perfect its research policy in two ways, by targeting its resources and coordinating its efforts. This is the aim of the new Task Forces which are designed to: - Define research priorities in collaboration with industry, in particular SMEs and consumers/users; - Improve coordination of the work to be carried out and available resources, notably in the context of the Fourth Framework Programme; - Encourage the development of a favourable environment, in particular the legal environment, for cooperation between enterprises. The priority sectors for the Task Forces are the car of the future, the new generation aeroplane, the train of the future, inter-modal transport, vaccines against viruses and multi-media educational software. These are fields in which European industry is already operating and where there are clearly identified commercial opportunities. The Task Force initiative aims to bring together enterprises involved in research activities, and so reduce duplication, in particular where the same result could not be achieved by the enterprises on their own. This implies real added value at Community level. These are also fields where there are high social expectations: they have a high public profile, given that they aim to provide beneficial results for all, ranging from developing less-polluting cars, improving education and preventing health hazards such as hepatitis. However, research raises ethical questions and disquiet for certain members of the public, notably as regards the consequences arising from the use of new technologies. All those engaged in research and technological development must take account of this problem and work to make scientific development more acceptable to the public, without whose support the innovation challenge will prove even more difficult to meet. Implementation of BRITE/EURAM The Task Forces and the specific R&D programmes must go hand in hand and their activities must be coherent with each other. To ensure this, the research activities conducted under the BRITE/EURAM programme must reflect the priorities of the Task Forces. This is the reason why the second BRITE/EURAM call for proposals has been delayed three months until 15 December 1995, to take account of the work of the Task Forces in related research fields and so target and coordinate resources towards the priorities they have set. This is also a good opportunity to end the isolation of certain specific programmes and make them more coherent with the work of other programmes and of the Task Forces. The launch of a call for common research proposals will change the habits of the Commission and the Member States alike. This is to be welcomed. Innovation should not be stifled by routine and, furthermore, the Commission itself cannot continually stress the need for coordination by others without improving coordination of its own activities. A change is needed across-the-board. As regards the financing rules, the ECU 7 million barrier has been broken and the Commission is starting to concentrate resources on priorities. However, the number of applicants is growing increasingly. BRITE/EURAM is the victim of its own success and those whose proposals are rejected become frustrated. Steps need to be taken further up the line to overcome this discontent, through improved dialogue between research and industry partners to ensure that they tailor and target their projects more efficiently and adapt their strategy in line with the development of the Community's programmes.