Research: EP wants simpler €52 billion research programme (Europolitics)


By Dafydd ab Iago

The European Parliament is calling for greater simplification of the EU's €52 billion research programme. In a resolution drafted by Maria da Graça Carvalho (EPP, Portugal), MEPs back the Commission's simplification drive but want officials to go further. The EP would like the EU research funding system to place more trust in applicants and be more risk-tolerant even if with clearly defined rules. A resolution to this effect was approved on 11 November with 553 votes in favour, 12 against and 7 abstentions.

Whilst noting that the Commission's April 2010 communication on simplifying research framework programmes lists some creative measures, the whole research programme system must be made more user-friendly. The legal framework should be more consistent, clearer, more manageable and less ambiguous and have fewer rules. Many of the suggestions made by MEPs mirror those of the Council (see box). EU research funding should, for example, be more trust-based and risk-tolerant towards participants at all stages. There should be flexible rules. Still, simplification during the current Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) should maintain stability, consistency and legal certainty for participants.

Steps proposed by MEPs include: financial control methods which clearly distinguish between fraud and error; uniform interpretation and application of participation rules; broader acceptance of usual accounting practices for checking participants' eligible costs; clearer terminology on the use of flat-rate and lump sums; total abolition of time-recording mechanisms such as time-sheets; use of the 'single audit approach' and 'real-time' auditing to enable beneficiaries to correct any systemic errors and submit improved cost statements the following year. Also key for MEPs is a reduction in the average 'time-to-grant' and 'time-to-pay' periods. Even if the Commission has made progress in this area, MEPs are concerned that the time from proposal deadline to signed contract ('time-to-contract') is still too long. MEPs want this deadline shortened by the Commission to a maximum of six months.

Rapporteur Carvalho believes her report will play a "fundamental" role in the Europe 2020 strategy. "Researchers will feel motivated to participate. It will also make the rules and processes simpler, clearer and more transparent," said Carvalho. The rapporteur notes that the financing system should based on scientific excellence, simplifying financial control. There should also be harmonised rules and procedures for the different instruments used in Commission programmes for research centres and universities, industry and SMEs.

Carvalho's report will not only help redefine the rules of participation for the existing Research Framework Programme (€52 billion) but also other science and research programmes. The report thus aims to provide guidelines for future programmes after 2013. Carvalho was appointed rapporteur for 'Simplifying the implementation of Research Framework Programmes' in May 2010 following the Commission's April 2010 communication.

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