The next six months will see key decisions made on the future of the multi-billion pound EU research budget, according to Mr. Pat Rabbitte, Irish Minister for Science and Technology and President of the Community's Council of Research Ministers since 1 July 1996. Mr. Rabbitte was speaking at a series of meetings held in Brussels on 26 June 1996 with representatives of the European Commission, including the Commissioner for research policy, Mrs. Edith Cresson, the European Parliament and the outgoing Italian Presidency. During the Irish Presidency, the mid-term review of the current five-year research framework programme (1994 to 1998) must be completed. The programme's total budget is ECU 13.1 billion. Also to be decided is the broad shape of the next EU research programme and budget. This will shape the approach to EU-sponsored research into the 21st century. A major discussion on the next programme is planned for October and December 1996 during meetings of the Council of Research Ministers. The new programme is currently scheduled to start at the beginning of 1999. "The European research programmes bring together the best scientific and technological brains in the Community to tackle the challenges facing European industry and the wider problems of society", said Mr. Rabbitte. "The research programmes also offer Irish researchers and industry excellent opportunities to engage in basic and applied research and to cooperate in developing leading-edge technologies for national and Community benefit." In addition, the Minister will be taking an initiative during the next six months aimed at maximizing the benefit to SMEs from greater participation in the Community research programmes and for optimizing their participation in the programmes. In all the Member States, including Ireland, economic growth is dependent on the performance of small companies. A number of national and EU events linked to this objective will take place during the Irish Presidency, such as the National Campus Enterprise Workshop and a conference on the Community's special technology programme for small firms, CRAFT, to be held in Brussels in October 1996. Mr. Rabbitte will also be urging the Commission to launch its action plan on innovation, promised by Commissioner Cresson for the autumn, as a follow-up to the recently published Green Paper on innovation in Europe. According to Mr. Rabbitte, there is a need in Ireland, as in the rest of the EU, for a heightened level of awareness both in the public and private sectors on the role of innovation in industrial competitiveness. There will be a number of national and international conferences focusing on innovation held in the coming months, including the Innovation Conference in Dublin on 4 November 1996. During the Irish Presidency, Mr. Rabbitte also plans to put forward an important initiative on how the European scientific and research community can contribute to the fight against illegal drugs. The drugs issue will be a major priority for the Irish Presidency over the next six months and the Minister's initiative is intended to complement this.