Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Preparing the Fifth RTD Framework Programme - An inside view

Professor Jorma Routti, Director-General of DG XII (Science, research and development) of the European Commission, recently gave an interview to CORDIS, the Community R&D Information Service, in which he outlines some of the central factors influencing the Commission in its pr...
Professor Jorma Routti, Director-General of DG XII (Science, research and development) of the European Commission, recently gave an interview to CORDIS, the Community R&D Information Service, in which he outlines some of the central factors influencing the Commission in its preparation of the Fifth RTD Framework Programme.

- Could you outline some of the considerations which are influencing your approach to preparations for the Fifth Framework Programme?

My feeling is that it is interesting to have interaction in the evaluation, amongst people of different disciplines. I found it rather useful, in a small organization, to have a biology project looked at by a team which includes biologists, economists, and technologists. In the scientific world, it is very often crossbreeding between ideas from different fields which is most fertile. If one has a very compartmentalized Framework Programme then of course the experts are also very compartmentalized and they see the world in the way they are used to seeing it and it becomes somewhat predictable.

If they (the evaluators) are predictable, there might be very interesting research areas which do not find a proper place in our evaluation of calls for proposals. It is also very difficult to promote concentration, and concentration of course means you must be more specific with calls for proposals because we have had very heavy over-subscription in response to calls for proposals under the Fourth Framework Programme.

You have to try to guess in advance what are the real key areas for scientific and technological development. Of course we use experts to define what these will be. However this means that many areas will be left outside the scope of certain specific programmes. There would need to be a mechanism to support that. Concentration must be complemented with a rather liberal treatment of the other areas not covered by a specific programme area.

I think it helps to have - of course we don't have yet - larger programme areas, because one can say that the current system is like "Innovation in a straight jacket". That is to say that if we freeze the research programme several years ahead, and the world then changes, it is very difficult to respond to new challenges, such as BSE, and opportunities, like the World Wide Web, because the need to finance these developments could not have been foreseen several years in advance. Technological developments today, in many fields, are extremely fast, for instance if you take information technology. One can say that it took the industrial empires of yesterday decades to build their power and strength; steel manufacturing or the car industry took many years to get established. If you look at the software world, we have seen evolutions such as Microsoft, which has taken only a few years to become a global player. Now we begin to see evolutions which mature in the space of a year - like Netscape and other World Wide Web applications.

So there is of course a challenge to the research world to be adaptive enough to these needs and to have enough information and technology foresight - the very worth of which is questioned by many. Thus, look at what happens with co-operation in the major companies. Although they have to pay the best technology foresight people in their organizations, if they fail to see the signals, or if they fail to react because of their rigid structures, they can lose out in competitiveness and in the market place. It is of course a rather difficult challenge to be flexible, to concentrate on the essential elements and still maintain the freedom to cover other key areas.

- Is the Commission taking a pro-competitive approach in the Fifth Framework Programme?

It is an important part of the competition policy that we are successful in converting our achievements in science and technology more effectively into economic benefit. Of course 10 or 20 years ago, it was very often thought that an interest in the economic impact would contaminate science. It was also thought that the capitalization of public property - which after all is what publicly funded research is - would not be fair. It is true that economic interest should not be the principal guiding mechanism for basic science. But rather than being content with the discoveries of basic knowledge, we must find ways to convert these into economic and social benefits.

An important issue is that concerning public access to publicly funded research. Here again the attitudes are different. Everybody understands that we are making significant investments in the public sector, into the generation of new knowledge. If you want to create knowledge-based industries you must have access to knowledge. It is also a challenge to create fair and equitable rules for these activities: who owns the intellectual property? What are the rewards? What are the risks? In the US these developments have gone quite a lot further than in most European countries, but we have seen the emergence of activities related to this in many European countries already. It has to be transitional - it is not only a question of whether you get enough research funding, it is also a question of if you get enough support and credibility to take your discoveries to the global market.

The characteristics of these rapidly evolving industries do not allow time for production for local markets, then expansion to the whole country, and then building up export systems. Typically the markets are immediately international or even global, the timescales are extremely compressed and the up-front investments needed are very large before you get any return from your investment. This typically calls for bigger efforts, or better-coordinated efforts between a number of players.

- How would you see the relationship between the Innovation Action Plan and the Fifth Framework Programme?

The Action Plan based on the Green Paper is now in progress: we have started to discuss how to create more efficient technology transfer modes and interfaces with risk capital in Europe. The Commission has also been helpful in the launching of EASDAQ, the European Securities Exchange for small technology and science-based companies. This is also an area where a European-wide approach is needed.

The investment needed to convert, for example, a biotechnology invention or scientific results into products, whether pharmaceutical or foodstuff, is so large that it cannot be justified if one considers one small, one-country market alone. I think the rules and regulations concerning biotechnological inventions must be made at a European level.

Innovation is a priority and must be based on excellent scientific, technical research results. It is very difficult to innovate on poor science. My experience is that only the best of science is of really great economic importance in many fields. So, there is a reason to support even basic studies, but we have to couple this more effectively to measures which can take it beyond the research phase. This is influencing the debate on the form of the Fifth Framework Programme.

Source: CORDIS Information Collection Unit

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