Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Research Council - 10 November 1997

The EU's Research Ministers reached their first concrete conclusions on the Commission's proposal for the Fifth RTD Framework Programme at the Research Council in Brussels on 10 November 1997. The Council was able to give considerable political guidance to their officials, wit...
The EU's Research Ministers reached their first concrete conclusions on the Commission's proposal for the Fifth RTD Framework Programme at the Research Council in Brussels on 10 November 1997. The Council was able to give considerable political guidance to their officials, with the aim of ensuring agreement can be reached on a common position at the next Research Council in February 1998.

The Ministers agreed with the Commission's proposal in respect of the criteria which would be used to define the content of the specific programmes and select RTD activities. These are: European added value and subsidiarity; societal objectives; economic development and scientific and technological perspectives.

Turning to the structure and content of the Programme, a large majority of delegations are in favour of five thematic programmes in place of the three proposed by the Commission. These five programmes would address:

- Life sciences;
- Environment;
- Information Society;
- Production and transport, and;
- Energy.

Comparing this with the Commission's proposal, the Information Society programme would remain broadly the same, while the other two proposed programmes, "Living world and the ecosystem", and "Competitive and sustainable growth", would each be divided into two parts. Substantial agreement exists for the creation of new key actions in the fields of "Ageing of the population", and "Planetary changes, climate and biodiversity", as well as the extension of the "Development of rural and coastal areas" action to include sustainable forest management.

The three horizontal programmes - "International cooperation", "Innovation and SMEs", and "Human potential" - were agreed by Ministers much as set out in the proposal. Here, major questions yet to be resolved concern the practicalities for participation by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have applied to join the EU. In the "Human potential" programme, the Council is still discussing the methods of financing industrial grants, and the priority to be given to socio-economic research.

The Council will leave decisions on the rules for Community financial participation in projects, particularly the proportion of costs borne by the Community, until the scientific content of the programmes is finalized. Ministers also discussed the overall budget for the Programme, and will resume these discussions in the light of the Parliament's opinion.

Ministers adopted a series of conclusions on the implementation and management of Community RTD programmes. The Council noted that the proposed structure of the Fifth Framework Programme will require adjustments to the current procedures. The Council wishes to see the existing Programme Committee structure maintained; i.e. committees of Member States' representatives, with a steering function, for each specific programme. In particular, the Council wants these Committees to be directly involved in matters such as approving short lists of projects, whereas the Commission has argued that this responsibility be completely delegated to itself.

The proposed Advisory Groups, comprising senior representatives of the scientific and industrial communities, to be set up for the key actions are welcomed by the Council. It appreciates the intention to reinforce and structure the Commission's links with researchers, but calls for the Groups' work to be made public. The Council underlines the need for transparency throughout the programmes' management, as well as the need to increase efficiency in the Commission's internal management structures.

In the field of nuclear research, the Council expressed support for the third of the six scenarios outlined by the Commission for the future of fusion research. This envisages the current Engineering Design Activities for ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) being continued during the Fifth Framework Programme. A decision on the construction of ITER would then be taken towards the end of the Fifth Framework Programme, in conjunction with the EU's partners. There was consensus among the majority of delegations for the addition of a key action on "Nuclear fission", including radio-protection. Ministers asked their officials to continue discussions with a view to reaching agreement on the Euratom Framework Programme at the February Research Council.

The next stage in the adoption of the Fifth Framework Programme is the Parliament's opinion, which is likely to be adopted in mid-December. Following this, the Council hopes to adopt its common position in February 1998. At this stage, once the two institutions have completed their first readings, the likely shape of the Programme will become clearer. The gap between the two positions will also give a good indication of when the Programme will finally be adopted.

The Council also confirmed the agreement on the financial supplement to the Fourth Framework Programme reached in conciliation with the Parliament on 23 September 1997. As the Parliament had already confirmed the agreement on 21 October, the lengthy saga has finally reached conclusion. An additional ECU 115 million will be added to the Fourth Framework Programme's budget in certain priority areas. (For further details of the agreement, please see CORDIS focus No 95, p. 2)

In the field of international relations, the Council concluded, on behalf of the Community, the Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement with South Africa. This Agreement, which gives reciprocal access to each parties' research programmes for Community and South African researchers, will shortly enter into force. The Council also authorized the Commission to negotiate a similar Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement with Russia.

Source: Council of the European Union

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