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The Fourth Framework Programme - aims and scope

Mr. Richard Escritt of DG XII of the European Commission outlined the importance of the Fourth Framework Programme in providing a firm foundation for the continued development of RTD in the European Union. He was speaking at a two-day conference on the Fourth Framework Program...

Policy making and guidelines

Mr. Richard Escritt of DG XII of the European Commission outlined the importance of the Fourth Framework Programme in providing a firm foundation for the continued development of RTD in the European Union. He was speaking at a two-day conference on the Fourth Framework Programme which was held in Brussels on 17-18 March 1994.

Mr. Escritt pointed out that the Commission's White Paper on "Growth, Competitiveness and Employment" draws attention to the importance of R&D, particularly in the areas of biotechnology, environmental research and telecommunications (trans-European networks). It also stresses the need for Europe to increase the level of its R&D effort from some 2% of GNP at present to a level of 3%, closer to that achieved by the US and Japan. Another key issue addressed by the White Paper is the need to increase the number of qualified scientists and engineers in Europe.

The Maastricht Treaty provides a sound foundation for research in the European Union. This is an important guarantee of stability, important for R&D which is a business with medium-term horizons. The Treaty defines the fundamental structure of the Fourth Framework Programme: it will be multiannual and will be implemented by Specific Programmes. The existence of a Treaty obligation for the Framework Programme ensures a long-term commitment on the part of governments, which includes a commitment to funding. This is in contrast to the usual annual nature of national scientific research programmes.

Given this long-term commitment, it is understandable that the process of negotiation should have been a careful one. Maastricht introduced the requirement that the Framework Programme be adopted by co-decision between Council and Parliament. This process is complex and many concerns have been expressed about it. But the experience has been encouraging. It is reasonable to say that the Council, Parliament and Commission have worked hard and attitudes have been constructive. The Commission has contributed to the transparency of the negotiations with a series of Communications which have been the subject of comment and discussion from many quarters - governments, associations, individual companies and research institutions. It is interesting to compare this process with national policies, few of which would have been subject to such extensive consultation.

The Framework Programme remains pre-competitive. This is a concept that has been criticized and which can be confusing. But it is important to ensure that public support for R&D does not undermine the will to compete.

Cooperation remains an important hallmark of EU research and there are important benefits to be derived from forging links between academic institutions, commercial enterprises and SMEs. Training in high technology is an important objective of the White Paper and the Fourth Framework Programme takes full account of this essential aspect of European research.

The new dimension of research in Europe under the Fourth Framework Programme includes increased attention to users' needs; the inclusion of all Community RTD, including such programmes as SPRINT, international RTD cooperation with third countries as well as support for other Community policies. New accents are also to be seen in extended support for SMEs, a new transport programme and a new programme on targeted socio-economic research.

The Fourth Framework Programme has many strengths: transparency in its preparation, stability funding, consensus in its support. The Commission's approach has been to consolidate on past experience, to introduce some well-focused innovations and above all to provide a coordinated approach to research and development in the EU ensuring continued transparency of procedures and equality of access for all interested researchers.

There is room for continuing improvement, for example in the dissemination and use of results and in the management of research. The Fourth Framework Programme is designed to address these areas as well as providing a firm foundation for the continued development of RTD in the EU.

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