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'Crucial moment' for Europe's scientific community

2011-06-17 - Public Service Europe

A simplified and properly funded research and innovation programme is essential if Europe is to compete on the international stage, writes Maria da Graça Carvalho.

This is a particularly crucial moment for Europe's scientific community as the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission are already working on the future European Research and Innovation programme - the successor to the Seventh Framework Programme. The European institutions are also at work on the future EU budget, post- 2013.

At this juncture, it is of paramount importance that researchers and policy makers pull in the same direction in order to ensure that they obtain the best possible design, structure and funding for the future programmes. The budget, funding and the need for simplification are of particular concern.

One of the most important reforms that Europe is in a position to introduce involves simplification in research funding. It will not matter how sophisticated and elegant the future research and innovation programme is if we do not manage to build a significantly simplified process into the new programme. This involves not only fewer instruments but also a radical overhaul of the administrative and financial rules.

As the MEP that has been responsible for drawing up the simplification report, my colleagues and I have come up with no less than 71 separate recommendations. One third of these require changes to the financial regulations. To this end, a series of amendments to the financial regulation report have been introduced in order to ensure that the 71 recommendations will be implemented at the outset of the new framework programme.

One way of furthering simplification to the structure of the future research and innovation programme would be to establish the following three pillars. First, a science driven pillar that includes the European Research Council, research support activities such as Marie Curie and European research infrastructures. Second, a policy driven pillar that includes cooperative research projects addressing the major societal challenges, and joint programming. And third, an industry driven pillar that includes JTIs, small and medium sized enterprises and the European Investment Bank. These three pillars would represent a much simpler and more effective structure than in the FP7.

The thorny problem of the budget is evidently central to the present negotiations. A group of MEPs from the EPP group, with whom I am directly associated, has called for the doubling of the future budget by comparison with the FP7 budget. This was included in the FP7 mid-term review report and was recently adopted in Strasbourg. This proposal has been included in the parliament draft report for the future programme. It has also been included in the post-2013 budget report - although it was necessary to adopt the wording "a substantial increase" rather than "doubling". The report was also adopted during the Strasbourg plenary a short time ago.

A larger budget will enable us to promote excellence at a European level, something that can only enhance the effectiveness of the future programme. Of course, there are a number of outstanding and well-established research institutes across Europe. But it is also important that we encourage the first sprouts of excellence - through so-called stairway to excellence measures - within the new programme. It is also important that a clear distinction is made between the funding for the new programme and the European structural funds. These two sources of financing are complimentary but the structural funds are crucial to capacity building in the area of research whereas the new programme should be above all concerned with the promotion of excellence and the stairway to excellence.

Lastly, national funding and European funding should be linked in as simple a manner as possible in order to strengthen the European research area. One way of achieving this goal is to employ national funds to finance the ERC, Marie Curie or collaborative projects that meet the excellence criteria but cannot be funded due to lack of available European financing. Europe is struggling to compete in the international environment and it is to be hoped that these measures will contribute not only to European competitiveness but also to the general well-being of Europe's inhabitants.

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