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Agreement means Fifth Framework Programme will start on schedule

The Fifth RTD Framework Programme - which will introduce a new era for EU research - now looks certain to be adopted before the end of 1998, therefore avoiding the break in EU research funding which would have so hindered European researchers. Following the compromise reached ...
The Fifth RTD Framework Programme - which will introduce a new era for EU research - now looks certain to be adopted before the end of 1998, therefore avoiding the break in EU research funding which would have so hindered European researchers. Following the compromise reached by the Parliament and Council on 17 November on the outstanding issues which had divided them throughout the adoption of the Programme, it is expected that this will be confirmed and all the legal Decisions required will be formally adopted before the end of December. This will allow the Commission to finalise its preparations for the implementation of the Programme, and European researchers can expect to see the first calls for proposals launched in February or March 1999.

Four formal meetings - not to mention regular informal contacts between the participants - of the conciliation committee bringing together representatives of the Parliament and Council, together with the Commission, were needed to achieve this compromise. With unanimity required between the 15 Member States in the Council, changes in its position were always going to be difficult to realise. In this light, the overall budget of EUR 14,960 million agreed for the Programme is close to midway between the Council's initial position (EUR 14,000 million) and that of the Parliament (EUR 16,300 million). Indeed, the Parliament's rapporteur for the Programme, Mrs Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl, stated after the agreement was reached that this overall budget was the best that could be agreed, despite the Commission's and Parliament's earlier proposals, in view of the Member States' aim to save money across the board. It should be noted that it represents a clear increase in real terms over the budget of the Fourth Framework Programme, seen as essential by many to avoid sending a negative signal to European researchers.

The budget breakdown (in EUR million) between the specific programmes is as follows:

- First activity: 10,843
. Quality of life and management of living resources: 2,413
. User-friendly Information Society: 3,600
. Competitive and sustainable growth: 2,705
. Preserving the ecosystem:
. Environment: 1,083
. Energy: 1,042

- Second activity:
. International role of Community research: 475

- Third activity:
. Innovation and participation of SMEs: 363

- Fourth activity:
. Improving human research potential and the socio-economic research base: 1,280

- Direct research activities carried out by the JRC: 739

- Maximum overall amount for EC Framework Programme: 13,700

The total of EUR 14,960 million is made up of this plus EUR 1,260 million for nuclear research activities under the Euratom Framework Programme, which is adopted under a separate procedure where the Parliament has less influence, for which the Council has already agreed on the budget.

Edith Cresson, the EU's Commissioner for research and innovation, welcomed the successful outcome of the conciliation process, noting in particular that concluding the adoption of the Programme before the end of the year would avoid any disruption in the financing of European research projects. She expressed her gratitude for the work accomplished by the joint chairmen of the conciliation committee - Renzo Imbeni, Vice-President of the European Parliament, and Caspar Einem, Austria's Research Minister and current President of the Research Council.

As well as agreeing the overall budget (which represents the maximum ceiling within which annual budgets will be set) for the Programme between now and 2002, the conciliation committee also addressed a number of other issues. At least 10% of the budget for the specific programmes under the first activity will be devoted to SMEs. At Parliament's request, the Commission will conduct a mid-term review of the Programme, and may put forward proposals for modification. The Key Action on the "ageing population" will now also include research on disabilities. A prize - to be known as the Descartes Prize - will be introduced to recognise outstanding scientific achievements resulting from European collaborative research.

One final issue, which was in fact the most divisive during the conciliation procedure, is that of the so-called guillotine clause. EU spending has, in recent years, been governed by a set of financial perspectives covering periods of several years within which the EU's detailed annual budget is constrained. The current financial perspectives run until the end of 1999, but a new set to run from 2000 to 2006 have not yet been agreed. Several Member States wished to insure against the eventuality that the new financial perspectives would not allow for the level of research funding agreed for the later years of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme. The conciliation committee finally agreed on a formula to deal with this problem, in the unlikely event that it does arise. In this situation, the Council and Parliament would jointly set a new maximum overall amount, and adjust the breakdown between the four activities of the Programme. However, the amounts for the specific programmes would be adjusted by the Council.

The agreement reached in conciliation has now to be approved by both the Parliament and Council. As the text may not be changed, this approval is likely to be fairly straightforward, particularly in the Council, where all 15 Member States have already agreed on the text in the conciliation committee. The full Parliament is scheduled to discuss the agreement on 14-15 December, which would allow its approval before the Parliament adopts the EU's 1999 budget later that week.

A number of other decisions - on the ten specific programmes as well as on the rules for participation and dissemination of results - have also to be taken before the launch of the Programme. The Parliament's Research Committee was scheduled to adopt its opinions on all ten of the specific programmes on 26 November, and these will then be discussed in the full Parliament in the same week as the conciliation agreement is discussed. Meanwhile, the Council has already reached agreement on six of the ten specific programmes, and will discuss the other four on 10 December, with the aim of reaching agreement on these then. It has already agreed on the rules, although these have not yet been formally adopted.

Once all these stages have been completed, the full set of Decisions can be expected to be adopted formally in mid-December. Both Parliament and Council have undertaken to do their utmost to ensure that the full package is adopted before the end of the year, allowing the Fifth Framework Programme to be implemented in full from the beginning of 1999.

Source: European Commission, Council of the EU, and European Parliament

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