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Commission launches debate on Fifth Framework Programme

The European Commission has launched its initial discussion paper on the shape of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, due to start in 1999. The paper, entitled "Preliminary Guidelines for the Fifth Framework Programme of RTD Activities", was adopted by the Commission on 10 July...

The European Commission has launched its initial discussion paper on the shape of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, due to start in 1999. The paper, entitled "Preliminary Guidelines for the Fifth Framework Programme of RTD Activities", was adopted by the Commission on 10 July 1996, on the initiative of Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for research, education, training and youth. The purpose of the document is to open a debate with the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and all those concerned by or interested in European research. On the basis of the results of this debate, the Commission will launch a formal proposal for the Fifth Framework Programme in spring 1997. At this preliminary stage, the Commission has not yet made any suggestions regarding the budget for the programme. The Commission has decided that the Fifth Framework Programme cannot simply be a continuation of the Fourth. While many elements, and the basic principles, will remain in place, the Fifth Framework Programme should attempt to consolidate research efforts, incorporate new topics, and change the way in which research is organized. The new programme aims to put research at the service of the people, by improving the bases of European competitiveness within a perspective of sustainable development. This can be done by providing better support for the production of new ideas, taking more account of the realities of demand and reinforcing links with organizations which can help to exploit the results. The Preliminary Guidelines suggest three priority topics for research efforts: - Unlocking the resources of the living world and the ecosystem. This will cover the acquisition and use of knowledge about fundamental mechanisms affecting human life, especially in the fields of health and food. In addition it will cover the development of advanced technologies to safeguard the environment; - Creating a user-friendly Information Society. Research should aim at developing technology, infrastructure, services and applications that are interoperable at world level, in order to give people easier access to information and education throughout their lives, help share cultural heritage and preserve linguistic diversity; - Promoting competitive and sustainable growth. This will cover manufacturing and design of new products and materials. Sectors to be targeted include energy, transport of people and goods, agriculture and fisheries. Complementing these research efforts, three horizontal activities will be priorities in the new programme: - Improving human potential, through training and mobility of scientists, including those in industry; - Innovation and participation of SMEs: easier access for SMEs to all research and research results, following the introduction of a single, simplified framework and the development of technology transfer mechanisms; - Confirming the international role of European research, involving: . Direct, improved involvement of certain outside participants in research programmes, in particular the Central and Eastern European countries, as part of their preparation for accession to the EU; . Introduction of schemes to improve cooperation at European level; . Definition of specific international scientific cooperation projects. As regards the implementation of the Fifth Framework Programme, the paper suggests that the new programme will be more selective about topics, to ensure a greater concentration of resources. This approach must be accompanied by greater effectiveness of project implementation and comply strictly with the principle of transparency. The Fifth Framework Programme must be more flexible, both in its research activities and in the decision-making process. The Commission proposes that a simplified decision-making procedure should apply to research policy, including the use of qualified majority voting, rather than unanimity, in the Council of Ministers. (This will be decided by the Member States at the Intergovernmental Conference, as part of a wider review of the EU's institutions and procedures.) The Commission also proposes reducing the number of specific programmes and the number of committees involved in their management. Research work programmes should be capable of rapid adjustment to deal with "emergency" needs, for example as with the "mad cow crisis." The new programme should be managed more efficiently, by simplifying internal Commission procedures. Deadlines for selecting projects, concluding contracts and paying grants should all be shortened, and selection procedures should be explained more clearly. The range of instruments available for research and the means of coordination should also be extended, to include: - A small number of horizontal programmes with a focus on generic technologies applicable to many areas; - Task forces to promote targeted research on particular topics; - Instruments for encouraging cooperation between groups of Member States. In addition, greater coordination and more exchange of information between Community and national research policies is needed, as well as stronger coordination with other Community policies and instruments, particularly international and regional policies. Finally, the Joint Research Centre should concentrate on providing impartial expertise to meet the needs of Community policies and ensure closer links with national laboratories. Speaking after the adoption of the Preliminary Guidelines, Mrs. Cresson stated that "Europe needs research, and research needs Europe. For it to continue, however, the aims of European research must be clearer and more accessible, its implementation must be simpler and more transparent, and its results must be more effective and useful for citizens".

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