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European Research Seen From Brussels

What are the means by which the European Union steers scientific and technological research within the Union? Lucien Laubier was science adviser attached to France's permanent representation to the European Union in Brussels from 1992-1996. Currently Professor at Marseille's University of the Mediterranean and Director of the Oceanographic Institute of Paris, he responds to our questions.

In terms of research at the European community-level, what are the respective roles played by the European Union Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission?
Lucien Laubier: As in other areas than research, the Commission (and in particular the Commission's General Directorate for Research) has the power to propose rulings to the two decision-making organs of the EU which are the Parliament and the Council. The Commission also has the responsibility to make sure that EU treaties are respected. In a process of co-decision, the Parliament submits suggested amendments to the Commission's propositions, and once the two bodies are in agreement the text is submitted to the Council which generates a common position with the help of a committee of specialist advisers (CREST). The COREPER, or Committee of Permanent Representatives – generally composed of ambassadors from each country, is also consulted. When agreement seems likely, the Council of Ministers decides to adopt the common position. If needed, a committee of conciliation may be convened to bring the points of view of the European Parliament and the Council closer together. If maximum periods for each stage are requested, the whole process can take up to 30 months.

Does the European Union have any research structures of its own?
L.L.
The only research units belonging to the EU are those of the Common Research Center (CRC), which is subordinated to one of the General Directorates of the Commission. Seven institutes in five distinct sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain make up the CRC, which employs 2,100 people for an annual budget of 300 million euros. The CRC carries out end research to help the Commission define its policy on such questions as food security, nuclear safety, or the environment. On the other hand there is also a set of large Europe-based research organisations established by international treatises which are independent of the European Union. Examples include CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research and particle physics), the ESO (European Southern Observatory) and the ESA (European Space Agency).

How is European research policy implemented?
L.L.
The main policy instrument is comprised of the Framework Programmes for Research and Development (FPRD). These are five-year programs which fund projects that entail international consortia, for periods of three years on average. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has just gotten underway and will unfold progressively in several stages. One matter yet to settle involves the rules for participation and another concerns the dissemination of results. Once these matters are taken care of the Commission brings together national expert committees to establish working programs. Next comes the call for tender (the first were put out on December 17, 2002) with the usual three-month deadline to be respected. Once received, the proposals are reviewed and evaluated by independent experts according to criteria established by the Commission. After a certain amount of negotiation and arbitration, the final list of projects to be retained is established and funds are allocated.

In what way has EU support for research changed over the years?
L.L.
Research as a European community phenomenon first developed in the 1980's when the major industrial concerns of Europe came together to discuss the possibility of "pre-competitive" research collaboration in the areas of electronics and computing, and a collaboration in the form of researcher exchange. The idea behind this initiative was to reinforce European industrial competitiveness. In 1992 the Treaty of Maastricht stipulated that European community research ought to address other EU concerns as expressed in EU policy in general. Beginning therefore with the 3rd FP (1992-1996) the topics addressed by FP projects widened considerably. The next sharp turn came with FP6 which was the first Programme to take seriously the notion of coordinating European community science policy with national policies, as called for by previous treaties.  FP6 marked an abrupt departure by underlining the concept of a European Research Area, a policy phenomenon which would unite national and EC policies in a coherent whole. The way was prepared by a pre-launch call for expressions of interest sent out to member States. FP6 also makes provision for two new instruments of community-level cohesion, Networks of Excellence* and Integrated Projects*, which benefit from average individual budget of about 10 million euros (or about ten times more than the average amount per project in the Fifth FP).

And how have levels of funding developed since the beginning?
L.L.
The overall budget of the Framework Programmes has grown slowly but surely since the first edition, whose budget was on the order of 3.25 billion euros. That of the Fifth rose to 15 billion, and FP6's total budget is 17.5 billion euros (which is equal to several percentage points of total combined national research budgets). One of the goals of Europe is by 2010 to get to the point where total member State allocation to research and R&D from both public and industrial sources is equal to 3% of GDP, as is the case in Japan and the US, but this objective is still a long way off.

Web site of the General Directorate for Research of the European Commission:
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Lucien Laubier
Centre d'océanologie de Marseille (COM)
Université de la Méditerranée
E-mail: l.laubier@oceano.org

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