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EUROPEAN COMMISSION

Address delivered during FORUM III

by Prof. Jorma Routti
Director General, European Commission
Directorate-General XII Science, Research and Development

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The European Union’s (EU’s) Fifth Framework Programme provides a uniquely coherent and truly European framework for supporting research and technological development as part of Community research policy, and effectively constitutes a five-year strategic plan. During this period, the programme will stimulate transnational collaboration in research, particularly between universities and industry, and the establishment of networks of excellence. This is one of the essential objectives of the Community research programmes.

It will also contribute to establishing in Europe an environment that is favourable to innovation. That means encouraging technology transfer, ensuring the availability of venture capital, helping to protect intellectual property rights and developing human resources.

But if – today more than ever – science and technology are the driving force behind industrial development and therefore job creation, it is clear that in Europe, the drive belt connecting research and economic development is still too loose. It is on precisely this point that the EU’s new programmes will concentrate: putting research and innovation to work for precise socio-economic objectives, such as job creation, improved health, and increased personal mobility.

In short, the programmes of the EU stimulate the mobility of both those involved and of ideas. That is fundamental, because technical and scientific knowledge is the principal raw material of modern industry.

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity – which requires an activity to be undertaken at the level of the EU only if that proves more effective than the national, regional or local level – the Fifth Framework Programme sets out Europe’s major research priorities. The contents of this programme were defined by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, on the basis of the Commission’s proposals, which themselves took account of the ideas of those involved or concerned – the worlds of industry and science, consumers’ associations, etc.

The principal characteristics of the Fifth Framework Programme

The Fifth Framework Programme comprises four thematic programmes (covering a series of well-identified problems) and three horizontal programmes (responding to common needs across all research areas). The total budget allocated to the programme is 14.96 billion euros, funding mainly three main types of activity.

  • Key actions. This is one of the major innovations of the Fifth Framework Programme. The aim of a key action is to concentrate the resources and the skills of all relevant disciplines, technologies, and people on a series of well-defined socio-economic problems. A total of 23 key actions have been identified. The spirit of the key action is thus quite different from the traditional organisation of research with separate disciplines. Key actions deal with concrete problems through multi-disciplinary approaches involving all the interested parties.

  • Generic research activities. These support research work complementary to that undertaken within the key actions. They aim to maintain flexibility in the Fifth Framework Programme and to support research and development of generic technologies in up-and-coming sectors.

  • Support for research infrastructure. Although the construction and operation of research infrastructure falls within the competence of the Member States, Community support is justified at two levels: to ensure the optimum use of existing infrastructure, and to allow the rational and economically effective development of additional research infrastructures through transnational cooperation.

The Fifth Framework Programme also incorporates changes in its management and implementation mechanisms. Among the changes are the simplification of procedures and quicker payments; greater involvement of industry, academia, and users in the management process (particularly through the 17 external advisory groups assisting the Commission on the contents and direction of the key actions); and the establishment of a more dynamic partnership with SMEs, especially through increased information and assistance.

Two essential elements: high-quality research and international cooperation

But if the Fifth Framework Programme makes changes, it also fits into the tradition of the previous programmes. Thus, its objective is and remains the development of a truly European scientific community, equipped with the best skills. Consequently, it will continue to support scientific and technical work of the highest quality, conducted by transnational partnerships. This will be accomplished by promoting research-worker mobility, building on the success of the previous programmes, in particular the networks developed with the support of the European Union. All Community research can be summed up in these two fundamental principles: high-quality research, and transnational cooperation.

In addition to a series of independent programmes, the framework programme also implements a coherent set of additional measures. Generic research activities in priority sectors, international cooperation, dissemination and exploitation of results: all the links are there to form a genuine integrated and common European research and innovation policy. The results obtained, as well as the statements of programme participants, all point to the fact that if Europe has been able to gain – or regain – a lead in several scientific or technical fields in recent years, this has often been due to Community programmes facilitating the coordination of research efforts and/or the assembling of a critical mass of physical and intellectual resources.

A special effort will be devoted to SMEs, which constitute the principal source of jobs in Europe. Since, historically, they have had difficulties in taking part in Community programmes, they will benefit from specific measures and from individual assistance. More than 12 000 SMEs were involved in various projects in the Fourth Framework Programme (1994–1998), which was twice as many as during the previous framework programme. Today, European SMEs show more interest in Community programmes than in national programmes.

All this explains why the interest and the impact of this programme extends beyond the specialists, since it enables Europe to derive greater benefit from technological progress, in particular in terms of job creation.

 

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