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Commission reports on research activities in 1998

While the adoption of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme was the main focus of EU research activities during 1998, there were also a wide range of Fourth Framework Programme activities ongoing throughout the year. These are all detailed in the Commission's annual report on rese...
While the adoption of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme was the main focus of EU research activities during 1998, there were also a wide range of Fourth Framework Programme activities ongoing throughout the year. These are all detailed in the Commission's annual report on research and technological development activities, which has just been presented to the Parliament and Council. As well as looking at activities during 1998, the report also assesses the outlook for research activities in 1999 and beyond.

The greatest differences between FP5 - now well underway - and the Fourth Framework Programme lie in its approach to Europe's social challenges. For example it is structured to combat problems with unemployment, which is becoming increasingly dependent on hi-tech sectors, as well as on the use of new technologies by traditional industries and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). FP5 's 14.96 billion euro budget is also three per cent higher in real terms (allowing for inflation) than that of FP4.

The new Framework Programme is structured to streamline the research themes under four major programmes. This is a major change from the 14 programmes of FP4. Three horizontal programmes, reflecting the current multidisciplinary environment in science and technology, complement these thematic programmes. FP5 uses Key Actions to target specific issues and also to encourage participation from SMEs, which are to receive 10% of the budget for the thematic programmes.

The role of the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has also been revised under FP5 to consolidate its activities and focus on research serving the citizen, sustainability, European competitiveness and nuclear safety.

FP5 heralds a new phase in international collaboration in research and development, says the Commission, with the association of the eleven countries which are negotiating to join the Union. These countries' researchers will be able to participate fully in FP5 and also in some cases in the Euratom Framework Programme.

Reviewing the implementation of the Fourth Framework Programme in 1998, the Commission reports that 6,200 new projects were started in 1998, with over 28,000 participants in total. Of these, new shared-cost actions (which accounted for almost 90% of Community funding) established more than 90,000 collaborative links between researchers in the European Union, some 83% trans-national. Participation by firms also remained high in 1998, accounting for 38% of participants, 65% of these being SMEs.

Marie Curie Fellowships granted under the Fourth Framework Programme also funded Europe-wide mobility for the equivalent of around 1,100 full-time researchers in 1998, while 950 researchers were trained under the 'research networks activity' or through grants awarded directly under the thematic programmes. Many of these young scientists received employment contracts from their host institution during their training.

The Industrial and Materials Technologies programme (Brite-Euram) was one of the success stories of FP4. A survey last year found that four years on from completing their research, a selection of Brite-Euram-funded projects had had a direct economic impact amounting on average to six times the total initial cost of the research and a positive net impact on employment.

The Commission also reports that in 1998, the first tangible steps were taken to promote the role of women in research. There was an increase in the proportion of women advising the Commission on research policy, with women accounting for 27% of members of the external advisory groups set up in 1998. The Commission has also now set up a coordination group to raise awareness of women's position in science.

In 1998, the Commission also reorganised itself to better reflect the structure of the Fifth Framework Programme. Directorates-General XII, III and XIII have therefore undergone reorganisation in both structure and staffing. The plan is for a more 'collegiate' style approach to management, contrasting with the past method of having each programme managed by just one director.

Over 55% of the research projects started under FP4 will continue in 1999 and many will go on into 2000 and beyond. Meanwhile, discussions on how European research will be organised after 2002, under the Sixth Framework Programme, will begin before the end of this year.

Source: European Commission

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