Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Compromise not yet in sight as Fifth Framework Programme conciliation opens

The launch, on 29 September 1998, of the conciliation procedure, which aims to resolve the differences between the Parliament and Council on the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, saw little progress made on bridging the gap between the two institutions. Despite considerable infor...
The launch, on 29 September 1998, of the conciliation procedure, which aims to resolve the differences between the Parliament and Council on the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, saw little progress made on bridging the gap between the two institutions. Despite considerable informal contact between representatives of the Parliament and Council, and the Commission, over recent months, the first formal meeting of the two sides saw neither yet ready to compromise. With the deadline for reaching agreement just six weeks away, a second meeting will take place on 12 October, on the eve of the next Research Council.

With the most significant difference between the two the overall budget for the Fifth Framework Programme - while Parliament and Commission call for ECU 16,300 million, the Council agrees on a figure of only ECU 14,000 million - the Commission is forced to wait with its detailed plans for the implementation of the Programme. Although there are only comparatively minor details of the content and structure of the Programme still to be resolved, until the overall budget is fixed, the Commission cannot be sure of the amount of work which it may support in any given field. Indeed, if the final budget is confirmed at the lower figure, the Commission has warned that it will not be possible to implement certain initiatives effectively, including a number of the activities carried out by the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Although the differences remain, both sides have acknowledged the need to compromise, with a whole series of legislation still to be adopted before the Programme can be launched. The target remains to complete this process at the Research Council scheduled for 10 December 1998, allowing the first calls for proposals to be launched in December 1998 or January 1999. It remains to be seen whether this deadline can be met, but neither Parliament nor Council will wish to be viewed as responsible for seriously delaying the new Programme, which would be the case if an agreement acceptable to both cannot be reached by mid-November.

As recently as 3 September, Parliament and Council restated their positions on the budget, when Caspar Einem, Austria's Minister for Transport and Science, the current President of the Research Council, met with the Parliament's Research Committee. For the Council, which must agree unanimously, the need for budgetary rigour and tight public spending limits must be applied across the EU's budget, without exception, according to Dr Einem. Whilst acknowledging that the likes of the USA and Japan spend far more on research than the EU, and have been much more successful innovators than Europeans, he stressed that, "it is not a question of one, two or three billion ecu more...spent on the Fifth Framework Programme, to remove as if by magic these structural weaknesses in industrial research in Europe".

For the Parliament and the Commission, ECU 16,300 million remains necessary to implement the Programme fully. The Commission, in particular, notes the additional activities introduced by the Parliament and Council, which it has agreed to take on without raising its initial budget proposal. These, it argues, makes the Council's proposal even less sufficient.

Other differences which remain between Parliament and Council include the status of SMEs with between 250 and 500 employees. The Commission aims to standardise all its activities aimed at SMEs to avoid confusion stemming from different definitions in use. However, the Parliament argues that companies just over the 250 employees threshold are those which are most likely to benefit from special initiatives to encourage SMEs to participate in the Programme. The Parliament is also calling for a mid-term review, which would allow the Programme's objectives to be modified at the halfway stage in the light of changing circumstances. With the EU's financial framework for the years 2000-2006 not yet agreed, the Council and Parliament differ over the mechanism to be used to resolve any difference in the budget agreed for the Programme and the financial framework once it is finalised.

As the deadline for reaching agreement in conciliation approaches, both sides will be forced to review their positions, to avoid the Programme collapsing. With neither wishing to take responsibility for an enforced break in EU research funding, it is almost certain that some compromise will be reached. With the Council seemingly immovable at the low end of the range, it is more than likely that the Parliament will be forced to reduce its demands. One symbolic barrier, which has been frequently noted in recent months, is the level which would maintain the Fifth Framework Programme's budget at the same as the Fourth in real terms.

Source: CORDIS Information Collection Unit

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