Young Europeans seize opportunity to discuss EU programmes with Commissioner Cresson
On 7 and 8 October 1997, Commissioner Edith Cresson, responsible for research, innovation, education, training and youth, hosted a discussion with some 120 young Europeans, each of them invited as current or former participants in Community programmes. This successful initiative, the first of its kind, allowed the young participants, aged between 18 and 29, to put forward their views - whether favourable or critical - on the programmes in which they had participated. The programmes discussed fall into three groups: research and innovation, education and training, and youth programmes. Separate workshops were held, bringing together the participants in programmes in each of these three areas, before all the participants attended an open session with Mrs. Cresson. At this session, the results of each workshop were presented to the Commissioner, who then discussed these with the group. On a general level, the participants called for better promotion and more information to be made available to the public on opportunities for participation in the programmes, although distribution of information appears to vary considerably between Member States. Linked to the need for more information, there was also a need to encourage a wider range of participants, since those from disadvantaged groups or regions often are less aware of the opportunities available. In tandem with this comparative lack of information, it is often more difficult for these groups to participate. Many participants also called for opportunities to be opened up for school-age children to participate in European programmes. Other general conclusions from the participants concerned the need to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding participation in Community programmes, with many concerned in particular about the length of time taken for the application procedures. Reducing obstacles to mobility within Europe, such as tax and social security policies and administrative conditions in different Member States, was also highlighted as an area requiring action. Responding to these points, Mrs. Cresson noted the need to improve the dissemination of information further, and announced the forthcoming establishment of a dedicated entry point to help young people access information on the programmes on the Commission's Europa World Wide Web server. She also promised to do as much as possible to improve response times within the programmes' administration, although here much depends on the Member States and organizations within them. Concerning the obstacles to mobility, she recalled the 1996 Green Paper on transnational mobility and subsequent proposals to remove obstacles to grant-holders and apprentices. However, the solutions to these problems lay largely in the hands of the Member States, the Commissioner said, and she called on the young people present to use their experience to influence authorities in their own countries. By way of an example of the scale of the problems, Mrs. Cresson noted that some Member States do not tax grants at all, whereas others impose taxes at levels as high as 60% of the grant. Other points concerning research and innovation specifically, and which the participants felt should be considered in formulating future programmes, included: - Research can contribute to solving Europe's problems, although it should not be seen as a "miracle cure". To contribute fully, it must be part of an overall integrated policy, and there must also be a contribution from socio-economic research; - The EU has a role to play in research, but it should concentrate on European-level problems, and respond to the needs and expectations of users. Encouraging interdisciplinary research, and the establishment of networks should be a major part of EU action; - The group, many of them former grant-holders who had worked on their PhDs in the Joint Research Centre, also called for a clearer definition of the role of the JRC; - A number pointed to the Marie Curie Association, for former grant-holders under the TMR (Training and Mobility of Researchers) programme, as a model for networking and follow-up to the grant-holders experiences, and called for further initiatives of this sort. Commissioner Cresson underlined the need to encourage an innovative mentality in Europe, and remove the stigma attached to failure in risky ventures, which she saw as disadvantaging Europe in comparison to its major competitors, in particular the USA. In respect of establishing associations and encouraging networking among former participants, she offered to assist in establishing such networks. Concluding the discussions, the Commissioner stated that the meeting had been both interesting and fulfilling for her personally, and that the views of the participants would be taken into account by the Commission, in the fields where it is competent to act. Responding to calls from the young people to make the forum a regular event, she suggested that the Commission would consider holding such a forum on an annual basis.