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Non-nuclear energy

Policy Issues

Fission and radiation protection

Energy research is generally carried out under the terms of the European Treaties. It is needed to support a wide range of EU policies. In particular nuclear research plays a key part in the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

Energy Research in the European Treaties

Power station control room
Energy research had its beginnings in two treaties:

Responsibilities of the European Commission

The Treaty of Amsterdam set out a full chapter on research and technological development (RTD). In particular, the EC is given responsibility for the following research activities:

  • implementation of research, technological development and demonstration programmes, by promoting co-operation with and between undertakings, research centres and universities;
  • promotion of co-operation in the field of Community research, technological development and demonstration with third countries and international organization;
  • dissemination and optimisation of the results of activities in Community research, technological development and demonstration;
  • stimulation of the training and mobility of researchers in the Community.

The Euratom treaty (Titles I and II) expresses the key role of nuclear research in the Community very clearly. In particular, the EC is given responsibility for:

  • promoting and facilitating nuclear research in the Member States and for complementing it by carrying out a Community research and training programme.

Who decides EU Energy Research Policy?

The European institutions together decide on the Framework Programmes for research as set out in the European Treaties.
The decision-making process is, briefly, as follows:

  • Consulting - The European Commission (EC) takes care to consult widely on its research policy and makes use of various committees and expert bodies to assist it in drafting the detailed proposals.
  • Drafting - Using its exclusive right under the Treaty, the Commission starts the process. It drafts proposals for the overall Framework Programme and, later, for the specific programmes for each research activity.
  • Co-deciding - Two European institutions, the Council (of the European Union) and the European Parliament then jointly decide on the content of the overall Framework Programme and how the budget is to be allocated between the various research activities. Before the proposal is adopted, the Economic and Social Committee, an advisory body, is consulted.
  • Final Voting - the Council, finally decides by qualified majority voting on the definite content and detailed funding of the specific research programmes.
  • Implementing - The Commission is then responsible for implementing the Framework Programme.

Energy research in the Framework Programmes

The multi-annual Framework Programme is the main means for implementing European research policy. It helps organise and fund co-operation between universities, research centres and industries – including small and medium-sized enterprises.

The scientific and technological objectives are set out in each of the Programmes, and they indicate the broad lines of the activities needed to meet these objectives. Within this framework, specific programmes are then defined which provide further details of the types of research activity that will be supported financially.

The Current Framework Programme (FP6)
The Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006) for research and technological development (RTD) has a budget of approximately €17.5 bn. Much of this is divided up between seven thematic priority areas. Energy research is part of the thematic area “Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems”. Priorities for Sustainable Energy Systems under FP6 include:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gases and pollutant emissions
  • Security of energy supply
  • Increased use of renewable energy
  • Enhanced competitiveness of European industry

Research into nuclear fission, radiation protection and fusion energy is dealt with under the Sixth EURATOM Framework Programme.
Previous research programmes:

The European Research Area

The challenge of overcoming the current fragmentation of Europe’s research efforts has now been taken up. Progress towards a European Research Area (ERA) is now the reference point for research policy issues in Europe.

The establishment of the European Research Area is one of the key objectives of FP6. Currently, research efforts in Europe are too fragmented and funding is below that of the EU's main competitors. While there is now a 'common market' for goods and services in the EU, there is not yet a common 'market' for research. That is the aim of the European Research Area.

Those parties currently committed towards the creation of a European Research Area include the European:

  • Commission
  • Member States
  • Parliament
  • scientific community, and
  • industry

A co-ordinated and determined effort to increase and better organise the European research effort is needed if Europe is to take full advantage of the potential offered by the transition to a knowledge-based economy and society.

The realisation of a European Research Area should:

  • prevent fragmentation through better co-operation and co-ordination;
  • ensure critical mass;
  • increase mobility of researchers; and
  • facilitate exploitation of research results.