Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Research aims to deliver strategic value

As the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) is launched in Essen next week, the European Commission's Director-General for research, Professor Jorma Routti, explains the Programme's significance for the future of Europ...
As the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) is launched in Essen next week, the European Commission's Director-General for research, Professor Jorma Routti, explains the Programme's significance for the future of European Research. Prof. Routti heads DG XII, which has had the responsibility for the overall planning of FP5 and is also responsible for running the majority of its specific programmes and coordinating its implementation.

As Director General for research since January 1996 - after ten years as president of the Finnish innovation agency, SITRA, and 14 years as professor of energy studies and dean of the department of technical physics at the University of Helsinki - Prof. Routti sees the most important objective of FP5 as being the identification and support of areas where common European research can be of great strategic value to Member States of the European Union.

"First of all, it is important to say that we are very pleased that it proved possible to complete the approval of FP5 politically at the end of last year," said Prof. Routti.

"For the last two years, we have been preparing a rather different approach to European research, which addresses the questions of specific importance to the EU and its Member States, not only in research, but also for society, whether they relate to employment, competitiveness at the global level, policy choices in the environmental/energy issue, or ethical issues related to biology.

"This brings together a problem-driven and policy-oriented approach, combining important elements all the way from basic research to technologies, products and policies," he said.

"While FP4 had a large number of specific programmes, we have decided to concentrate funding for FP5 on only four thematic programmes and 23 key actions, which require EU-wide, and often even wider collaboration, as the common issues are of interest to most countries today - such as climatic change, future energy solutions, telecommunications standards, and the possibilities of modern biotechnology. These are universal issues, for which good coordination is required, and, of course, they remain central issues in the political agenda."

Once this new approach was established, there was good justification for the selection of the four themes: life sciences and biotechnology, information society, industrial growth and energy-environment.

"The basis of science today in all life sciences is the same - molecular biology and genetics - whether we talk about medicine or agriculture," he said. "After all, in agriculture, the issues relate to genetically modified organisms and cloning, and, on the medical side, they are the secret to finding therapies for diseases.

"The same is true for information technologies, where we have seen an integration of computers, telecommunications and telematics. And, in the industrial arena, the common denominators are competitiveness and sustainability at the global level.

"The questions in energy and environment are also very closely related," said Prof. Routti, "so these four major themes are very well justified"

Within FP5, the 23 key actions have around three-quarters of the funds allocated to them, and Prof. Routti emphasised their significance.

"The key actions are, by definition, multi-disciplinary and require contributions from many fields of science," he said. "That is why it is better to have a limited number of large thematic programmes in order to make the multi-disciplinary approach easier. For example, in transportation, we have to look at energy, environment, city planning, information technologies, economic systems, and even behavioural science - all at the same time.

"There will be much more integration, which will give policy-makers well-defined policy alternatives - incorporating cost, benefit, impact and risks analyses."

Having a more integrated approach presents the European Commission with fresh challenges in monitoring progress towards the principal objectives of FP5 and the aims of the specific programmes.

"When you move to the more integrated approach, you have to measure not only the classical outputs of science - publications, citations and patents - but you also have to estimate the impact and the tangible results relative to the objectives under consideration," said Prof. Routti. "Every key action has an expert advisory group (EAGs), which comprises experts from different countries all the way through from basic science to policy makers. It is very much in collaboration with the EAGs that we are trying to develop monitoring techniques and to guide the research to best meet the objectives.

"It is a general challenge to the scientific world to devise more aggregated indices which relate to the development of industrial structures, competitiveness and wise policies. These cannot be easily measured by the classical science indices," he said.

At first sight, the 4% real increase in the FP5 budget compared with that for FP4 four years earlier gives the impression that EU Member States accorded FP5 lower priority than their own science budgets, which, in many cases, have seen much greater increases. But Prof. Routti explained that there are other factors that need to be taken into account in arriving at a more realistic assessment.

"Not only is the real value of the science budget maintained, it is a real increase of more than 4%. Furthermore, the Commission is not seeking to solve the problems alone but in collaboration with Member States," he said. "With FP5, there is much more leverage with the national side than there has been with individual projects which were not always coupling solutions to problems. It is very clear we cannot finance the investments in major infrastructures such as telecommunications, but we need to provide guidance for the best policies in the EU and the Member States.

"We also have common interests with our colleagues in the structural funds, of which an increasing share can be devoted to innovation-related investments and advanced infrastructures. Also, in the enlargement of the EU, all 11 applicant countries are negotiating an association with FP5 and their participation will be helped by Community development aid into these countries. Still other countries, such as Norway, Iceland, Israel and Switzerland, which are not EU members, are seeking full association with FP5 with full financial contributions," said Prof. Routti.

Although FP5 is clearly taking a new approach, it is also carrying forward many best practices learned from FP4 and earlier programmes such as collaborative European networks, exchange and mobility of scientists and critical socio-economic studies, which Prof. Routti saw as particularly valuable.

Source: CORDIS Information Collection Unit

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