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Simplify, simplify!

2010-11-29 - The Parliament Magazine

Science, education and innovation are pillars of economic growth and job creation.  Europe must invest in research if it is to develop new products and services.  These will create new sources of employment and growth, something that will both render Europe more competitive and improve the  quality of life of its citizens. 

The current European Framework Programme of research and development (Seventh FP) has enormous strategic importance for the development of innovation, competitiveness and therefore employment.  At the moment, the European Parliament and the European Commission are working on the mid-term evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research.  At the same time, we have started preparing the Eighth Framework Programme for Research, to take effect on 1 January 2014. 

As we work, a great deal of criticism has been levelled at European Research funding, mainly on account of the bureaucratic complexity and the financial requirements with which researchers are confronted as soon as they seek funding. 

Over the years, the Framework Programme has grown in scope, both in terms of the applications received and the size of its budget. The swelling number of applications for funding has been met with a parallel growth in control mechanisms, in an attempt to ensure the proper use of EU funds. The unfortunate result is that it is increasingly difficult for companies and other organisations to find their way through a labyrinth of rules, procedures and red tape. This is particularly the case for smaller organisations, including small and medium enterprises, high-tech start-ups and smaller institutes.

Moreover, Research and Development budgets suffer from the fact that around 25% of funding is dedicated to paperwork (reducing the amount available for more tangible benefits by the same proportion).  At the end of the current Framework programme, nothing less than €13 billion of the allocated €52 billion budget will have been paid out on administrative and bureaucratic procedures.  

It is certainly necessary to simplify the mechanisms involved in the Framework Programme for Research.  European research programmes should be based on a spirit of trust amongst the different partners involved and confidence in the inventive and innovative capacity of scientific enterprise.  A better balance between trust and control, risk taking and risk avoidance is required, one that simultaneously ensures sound financial management. 

In this respect, I was honoured to have been entrusted with the challenge of guiding the report concerning the difficulties confronted by the scientific community through Parliament.  On 11 November 2010, the Simplification Report was voted on during the plenary session of the European Parliament and was adopted with an overwhelming majority (553 votes in favour to 12 against with 7 abstentions).  However, the report marks only the beginning of a difficult road ahead.  Now, we have to make sure that our recommendations are properly implemented. 

If we are successful, we hope the simplification process can be extended to other European programmes and notably the Structural Funds.  Programmes with simpler rules will also be more transparent and efficient and will give rise to more job creation.  Indeed, in times of crisis, financial difficulty and leaner budgets for science, our watchword should be simplicity, flexibility and transparency.  If we achieve our goals, research and innovation will be enhanced at the same time as Europe becomes a more attractive place to live and work.