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Reducing RTD inequalities in the Community

Differences in gross expenditure on RTD between Member States are significantly greater than differences in standards of living. Absolute levels of RTD spending in Spain, Greece and Portugal are particularly low, though the rates of increase of government expenditure in favour...
Differences in gross expenditure on RTD between Member States are significantly greater than differences in standards of living. Absolute levels of RTD spending in Spain, Greece and Portugal are particularly low, though the rates of increase of government expenditure in favour of RTD have been substantial in recent years, especially in Spain.

Differences in availability of RTD personnel and in business expenditure are also striking, and expenditure on the effective dissemination of RTD results into the productive sector is extremely low in most of the less prosperous Member States.

Community measures to reduce regional RTD inequalities are discussed in a communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament entitled "Cohesion and RTD policy - Synergies between research and technological development policy and economic and social cohesion policy"

In the less prosperous regions, it may be necessary to look again at the balance between basic and applied research, and at the balance between research and its dissemination into productive activity. Equally, it may be necessary to give more attention to developing the awareness and involvement of the private sector, bearing in mind the predominance of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) and the lack of appropriate support structures and business services, for the financing of innovation. Both the Fourth RTD Framework Programme (1994-1998) and the next round of programming for the Structural Funds offer new opportunities to meet this challenge.

The aim is to establish an integrated approach between the Framework programme and the Structural Funds while respecting the identity of each policy. Within the Fourth Framework Programme, all four Activities are asked to contribute. The less prosperous Member States are seeking, firstly, continuity in the funding of research, technological development and demonstration programmes in which they have already demonstrated their relative competence and interest. They will also take advantage of some of the changes of emphasis which are proposed, for example:

- Improving communication and awareness of actions, including electronic networks related to linguistics, for information interchange among health care institutions, for distance learning, and for industrial cooperation more generally;

- Retention of research topics as well as the addition of new actions in which less favoured regions (LFRs) perform well, such as the new accent in environment on the management of soils and water and the prevention of desertification, the identification of new orientations for the agricultural sector and of rural development matters, and the use of renewable energies and the promotion of energy-efficient growth.

The Commission also intends to review the effectiveness of its promotion and information actions in favour of the LFRs with particular reference to the productive sector and including the assistance to create consortia. This will be complemented by additional measures in higher education and training programmes.

An increase in the resources allocated to the Third and Fourth actions of the Fourth Framework Programme is proposed (their share of the RTD budget will rise from 9.8% to 10.6%). These Activities concern interventions in the following fields:

- The dissemination and the application of the results of Community activities in research, technological development and demonstration;

- The stimulation of training and the mobility of research workers throughout the Community.

In the Third Activity a number of actions will promote cohesion. These include the organization of, and support for, access to international expertise for the design and evaluation of technology diffusion networks in the less prosperous regions. At the same time, actions to promote the interface between research and the scientific community will mainly concentrate on regions and sectors where the diffusion of information is felt to be less effective at present.

A special effort will be made in favour of traditional sectors of the economy(for example through the promotion of innovation and technology transfer). Less favoured regions will be encouraged to exchange experiences with more advanced regions on the design and implementation of measures to raise the capacity of their SMEs to absorb technology.

Flexibility should exist in the Framework Programme to permit the financing of equipment and software purchase directly related to the development of networks for the dissemination of technology. The Commission intends to encourage the setting up of European Economic Interest Groups (EEIGs) as a preferred method of organizing networks between the richer and the less prosperous regions.

Further special actions envisaged include the possibility of additional financing for scientists from LFRs, the financing of visiting professors and scientists, and selection priority for Euroconferences and for access to big science and technology centres. Scholarships to encourage a reverse brain drain and initiatives to propose to researchers particular scientific and technical networks and university twinning arrangements may also be considered, together with the creation of industry-academia networks.

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