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French outline research priorities for Presidency

Encouraging the creation of the European research area looks set to be a top priority under the forthcoming French EU Presidency, beginning on 1 July 2000.

The idea of strengthening cooperation between European researchers - an initiative of research Commissioner Philippe Bus...
Encouraging the creation of the European research area looks set to be a top priority under the forthcoming French EU Presidency, beginning on 1 July 2000.

The idea of strengthening cooperation between European researchers - an initiative of research Commissioner Philippe Busquin - was recently endorsed at the Lisbon Council summit, where it was agreed that better coordination would improve competitiveness and ultimately create jobs.

The new French research minister, Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, affirmed his country's commitment to the idea, saying at a recent press conference: 'To build a Europe of science and innovation, to construct a European scientific and technical community, is to give European research what it needs to consolidate its position and develop its autonomy, vis-à-vis the United States.

'To do this, we must strengthen coordination between national research policies and with European policy.'

Preparations for the Sixth Framework programme will take shape under the French Presidency, and Mr Schwartzenberg said increasing cooperation and coordination between Member States would ensure the 15 billion euros involved is used as effectively as possible.

Mr Schwartzenberg put forward five key proposals that he intends to present to other European research ministers.

Top of the list is the promotion of innovation, particularly the creation of innovative technological enterprises, identified as a priority at the Council summit in Lisbon. To this end, the French propose accelerating the establishment of a European patent, setting up a pan-European fund for nurturing new companies and providing seed capital, harmonising fiscal taxes favourable for the creation of innovative enterprises, and establishing a European competition to reward innovative companies.

Other proposals would establish research links between Member States, thereby strengthening the European research area. Mr Schwartzenberg suggests establishing European technological research networks in key sectors, bringing together public and private research. Also on the agenda is the creation of a European Academy of science and technology, possibly in Strasbourg, along the lines of the Academy of Science in the USA. Although independent, the academy would provide advice to the European institutions.

To promote the results of European research, Mr Schwartzenberg suggests launching a European agency for scientific and technical diffusion, responsible for relaying the results of research to other enterprises and the media. He also recommends creating European houses of science and technology in the large eminent countries of the world and in strongly emerging economies. These houses would serve as a show-case of European talent in science and technology, and as centres for the diffusion of this knowledge.

The development of an inclusive Information Society is also strongly backed by the French, who name it among their top national priorities.

The means of making the transition to this new digital economy were first laid out by the Commission in its eEurope initiative - a bundle of measures designed to promote the uptake of new technologies.

Before leaving for a ministerial conference on the Information Society in Lisbon, Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg said: 'The development of the Information Society is certainly an economic issue: to catch up with the United States, to reinforce our competitiveness, to contribute to growth and employment.

'But it is also a social issue: the European entry into the 'new economy' must be done in a socially cohesive manner, with democratic access to the new technologies and technological progress open to all, not only to those who know the privileges of the Information Society.'

French researchers were among the most active participants in the Fourth Framework Programme. The funding received at European level, however, is only a fraction of the total research spending. Figures available for 1997 show that of a total of 73.5 billion french francs spent by public organisations on research, only 1.5 billion was funded at European level. In the same period, 111 billion francs was spent by private companies.

Besides the Information Society, the priority areas of French national research for the coming year, as laid out by Mr Schwartzenberg, are the life sciences and environmentally friendly research.

Life sciences come top of research policy in France, because of their economic impact, and their ability to address the fundamental human requirements of health and life quality. Genome and post-genome related studies, neurosciences, biotechnology and development biology are particularly strong areas.

Sustainable development is also highly regarded, and Mr Schwartzenberg wants to promote this by bringing together the sectors of science and the environment. Among the specific challenges to be addressed, he highlights the protection of water resources from pollution and environmental changes caused by man, and using satellite observations of the earth to improve the prediction of national disasters.

The humanities and social sciences are also areas where French research is strong, which Mr Schwartzenberg says will become increasingly important and relevant to the 'hard' sciences as society begins to address the ethical questions surrounding developments such as cloning and the mapping of the human genome.

Finally Mr Schwartzenberg wants to promote space policy, where he says France is a European leader. In the coming year, France along with her partners at the European Space Agency, will be elaborating on the European spatial strategy, which will begin during the French Presidency.
ared with Europe, and this gap will w

Source: French research ministry

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