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Welcome Speech of Thomas Ístros, Swedish Minister for Education and Science,

Fourth Community Aeronautical Days
Hamburg, Germany on 29 January 2001

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank Commissioner Philippe Busquin for inviting me to participate in the opening ceremony of this conference. It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Hamburg today on the occasion of the Aeronautics Days 2001.

Few people know that research is one of the fields where the European Union is focusing most resources. The present Fifth Framework Programme, which sets out the priorities for the European Union's research and technological development until 2002, has a budget of almost 15 billion Euros. That makes this framework programme one of the largest budget items for the European Union. Only agriculture and the structural development funds receive more resources.

The framework programmes have made research an important tool for European co-operation. However, recently research has come into focus for international politicians as never before.

At the European Council's meeting in Lisbon in March 2000, the Council established a new strategic objective for the Union for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. By confirming the importance of research and innovation for economic development and growth, the Lisbon summit put research at the top of the European political agenda, a position I believe it will keep in the years to come.

* * *

One area of European co-operation which has become very important in recent decades is aeronautics. One example in the civil aircraft sector is the European Airbus consortium, a co-operation project that has proven to be a great success.

A similar trend towards cross-border collaboration is evident in the area of research and technological development. In the course of successive research framework programmes, aeronautics has grown in relative importance. Now, in the Fifth Framework Programme, it holds a strong position and has its own key action under the thematic programme "Competitive and Sustainable Growth". The budget of this key action, "New perspectives in aeronautics", is 700 million Euros. This means that the funds allocated to this research area have almost tripled compared to the Fourth Framework Programme and that the European Union is now responsible for a large proportion of European public expenditure on aircraft research and technological development.

* * *

The Swedish Presidency as a whole wants to focus on three overall issues, our three "Es", which share top priority on the Swedish Government's agenda: Enlargement, Employment and Environment.

Enlargement presents a historic opportunity to unite a continent that has been divided for many years and to consolidate peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity in Europe. Sweden wants to play an active role in moving the enlargement negotiations forward and our goal is to achieve decisive advances during our Presidency.

The fight for jobs has long been a Swedish priority. Over the last few years the unemployment rate in the European Union has dropped from 11 per cent of the labour force to nearly 8 per cent, but Europe must keep the pressure up. Another major challenge for the European Union consists of the demographic changes that the Member States face. These issues will be the focus of discussions at the European Council in Stockholm in March.

Environmental issues and the pursuit of sustainable development have also been a high-priority policy area for Sweden ever since we joined the EU. A strategy for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development is to be adopted at the Göteborg Summit in June and we will also consolidate the work on integrating environmental aspects into all decision-making in the European Union.

Research plays an important role in all these three fields. Research is becoming increasingly important for economic growth, employment and the renewal of society along ecologically sustainable lines. By being open to researchers and scientists from candidate countries and other European non-member countries, the European Union's education and research programmes are already making an active contribution to linking together the whole of Europe.

These three priorities of ours - enlargement, employment and environment - also have obvious connections with research and development in the field of aeronautics. On this occasion, however, I would like to focus on just one of them - environment.

A larger European Union will stimulate economic development across the entire continent. This will increase the need for a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly air transportation system. The objective of the current key action in the Fifth Framework Programme is to reduce aircraft development cost and time, boost aircraft efficiency, improve environmental friendliness and enhance operational capacity and safety.

As a frequent flyer I attach great importance to all these objectives, but from a long-term perspective I consider the environmental aspects to be the greatest and most important challenge.

It is true that the aeronautical industry is working hard on reducing aircraft engine emissions and fuel consumption. Modern aircraft and engines are much more environmentally friendly than their forerunners. The problem is, however, that these improvements are not enough. The reason why this is so is the simultaneous growth of air transport.

In 1999 the European transport ministers declared that the volume of air transport is projected to double over the next 10-12 years. In the same year, 1999, a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel established jointly by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), published a special report on aviation and the global atmosphere. In its report the working group stated that global passenger air travel is projected to grow by about 5 per cent per year between 1990 and 2015. In spite of improved aircraft efficiency, this is projected to entail an increase in total aviation fuel use of 3 per cent per year over the same period.

This increase in fuel consumption is not in line with our ambitions to bring about sustainable development. Solving this equation - making the development and application of new technologies faster than the rate at which air transport grows - represents a major long-term technological challenge for the aeronautical industry.

* * *

Under the Swedish Presidency, negotiations will start on the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme for research and technological development. The ongoing work on planning this next step in European research co-operation is being carried out in the light of the communication "Towards a European Research Area" by the Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin.

The Commission is expected to deliver its formal proposal for the Sixth Framework Programme in February, so it's too early to say what the outcome will be of the discussions and negotiations that will follow. But here today I would like to bring up a few issues that the Swedish Presidency finds very important.

First of all, one of the main challenges will be to strike a good balance between, on the one hand, concentration of resources, and on the other hand, allowing competence to be fostered and developed in the different Member States. Like education policy, research policy is primarily a national area of responsibility. At the same time, higher education and research belong to a part of society where globalisation is already very tangible and which has a long tradition of contacts across national borders. Over the years, international co-operation in research has grown still further in importance.

We believe that a "European research area" should be created through co-operation and networking on a voluntary basis around freely chosen objectives. Let me also stress that, although European and national programmes are very important, research and technological development are not just a matter for taxpayers. One fundamental principle is that industry, which benefits from the results, should itself take on substantial responsibility for these investments.

Secondly, it is essential both to preserve existing centres of scientific excellence and to develop new, perhaps virtual, centres. At the same time, we think it is important to maintain healthy competition in European research. Scientific excellence and the quality of the research performed should be the most important criteria when deciding how to invest in research and development in the future.

Thirdly, although the industrial and economic aspects of the framework programmes are important, it is time now to strengthen the scientific dimensions. The role of the universities in European research should not be underestimated. University research lays the foundations of basic research and guarantees the long-term scientific base. Like many other industries, aeronautics is based to a large extent on scientific achievements and results produced by basic research. For this reason it is also important to further strengthen and stimulate the flow of knowledge between industry, research institutes and universities.

The framework programme should contribute to raising the quality and enhancing the attractiveness of European research. In the opinion of the Swedish Presidency, efforts should concentrate on urgent areas and on strengthening the position of basic research within the programme. At the same time, strong support must be given to a variety of measures to boost the European capacity for innovation and to encourage and improve opportunities for international mobility among researchers. Researcher and student mobility is one of the most important means of promoting European research co-operation. At the same time - and this is of great importance - Europe should not go into its shell. It is very important that European research and industry, acting from a strong position, is open to global co-operation.

With these remarks, I wish you all a very interesting and successful conference on the future of European aeronautical industry and research.

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