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Commission clarifies its thinking on the Fifth Framework Programme

In its second working document on the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, adopted on 20 November 1996, the European Commission has confirmed its approach of concentrating Community research on a small number of key topics. The overriding aim of the Fifth Framework Programme will be...
In its second working document on the Fifth RTD Framework Programme, adopted on 20 November 1996, the European Commission has confirmed its approach of concentrating Community research on a small number of key topics. The overriding aim of the Fifth Framework Programme will be to address Europe's societal and economic needs.

This working document builds on the preliminary guidelines, "Inventing Tomorrow", adopted by the Commission in July 1996. Its main purpose is to clarify the Commission's thinking in terms of structure, objectives and implementation of the Fifth Framework Programme. The document will be presented to the Research Council on 5 December by Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for research.

In terms of the structure of the Fifth Framework Programme, the new working document confirms the format laid out in "Inventing Tomorrow". Six programmes, three specific and three horizontal, will address the priority themes identified:

- Unlocking the resources of the living world and the ecosystem;
- Creating a user-friendly Information Society;
- Promoting competitive and sustainable growth;
- Confirming the international role of European research;
- Innovation and participation of SMEs;
- Improving human potential.

Focusing research policy on a narrow range of topics means, inevitably, that choices on scientific objectives will have to be made. Accordingly, the Commission is proposing a general approach and a set of criteria to be applied systematically. Activities to be supported will have to demonstrate high European added value. They must also, however, help to achieve Europe's societal and economic objectives and should significantly improve Europe's knowledge and capabilities in their field. In particular, priority will be given to activities likely to improve quality of life, health and environment, improve Europe's competitiveness and help to create employment.

The Commission has recognized that the Fifth Framework Programme's success will depend on its effective implementation. It proposes to focus its efforts on four areas for improvements:

- Coordination of research efforts needs to be improved:

. Within research programmes and between research programmes (in this area, the Task Force approach, launched in 1995, is likely to be of value);
. Between Community research programmes and other Community activities and policies, particularly the Structural Funds and the Third Country technical assistance programmes such as PHARE, TACIS, and MEDA;
. Between Community initiatives and national initiatives: Here, the Commission proposes to use existing instruments such as COST and EUREKA, but also it proposes the use of new mechanisms, which are already provided in the EC Treaty under Article 130. These new mechanisms could provide valuable additional opportunities for research activities, including cooperative activities involving a limited number of Member States.

- Community research programmes need to be more flexible and able to respond to needs. The Commission proposes greater use of real-time monitoring of scientific developments, using measures such as "Technology Watch", and enhanced consultation with industry, researchers and users. The specific programmes' work programmes should be the subject of regular adjustment, ideally annually, and there should also be a "free space" reserved for responding to urgent needs of high priority.

- Research activities should increase competitiveness, in particular through demonstration activities, with stronger protection of intellectual property rights, giving a greater incentive to exploit results.

- The management of specific programmes needs to be improved still further, on the basis of the principles of effectiveness, quality, equality of opportunity and sound administration of public funding. In particular, by increased focusing of programmes, greater transparency in calls for proposals, and more use of pre-screening of proposals, particularly for SMEs, the Commission hopes to reduce over-subscription of calls for proposals thus allowing for more efficient management.

In respect of the Programme's budget, the Commission notes that under the current financial perspective, research spending now represents 60% of Category 3 of the budget (Internal policies). This is in line with the agreement reached at the Edinburgh European Council in December 1992. The Commission suggests that the same approach should be followed for the next financial perspective in which the Fifth Framework Programme will be financed. In the budgetary context, the Commission calls for sufficient investment in research to match Europe's major competitors, Japan and the USA, both of which currently spend more public funds on research than Europe.

The Commission intends to publish a further working document early in 1997, after the debate in the Research Council in December 1996. At this point, the Commission will also have the European Parliament's report on research in the 21st century, and further details of the five-year assessment of Community research which is currently underway. The Commission will then submit its formal proposal for the Fifth Framework Programme in March 1997, with final adoption hoped for in early 1998, in time to allow the Programme to start in 1999.

Source: European Commission, Service du Porte-parole

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