The mechanisms used for implementing measurements
and testing (M&T) activities were constantly evolving. As the Sixth
Framework Programme (FP6) gets underway, expressions of interest and dedicated
calls aim to mobilise a critical mass of research and development resources
together with a better integration of research capacities across Europe.
EU involvement in measurement-related research began
almost 30 years ago with the establishment of the Bureau Communautaire
de Référence (BCR) in 1973, well before the early framework
programmes. The current system, whereby many M&T activities are selected
through a two-stage process involving expressions of interest and the
dedicated call, came about as a result of adjustments made in the 1990s.
Under FP4, European standardisation bodies and Commission
DGs submitted a list of priority topics, which were then reviewed by the
Research DG prior to the six-monthly publication of a dedicated call.
The results enabled M&T to publish research on topical issues such
as the microbiological quality of bathing water and electromagnetic dosimetry
for mobile communications. There was, however, some criticism that only
a closed circle of organisations could propose research topics.
||Pros and cons
Under FP5 a more targeted approach was adopted
for M&T activities, devoting a higher proportion of research
funds to socio-economic issues of concern to European citizens.
Expressions of interest were invited from anybody wanting to submit
a description of problems they would like to see solved, irrespective
of whether they wished to take part in a subsequent proposal.
Expressions of interest should provide a clear
demonstration of the merit of the proposed topic, and an outline
of potential objectives and criteria for applicants. They were evaluated
periodically by independent experts, bearing in mind the FP5 socio-economic
criteria, available budget and quality of the document. Selected
priority topics have generally been published twice a year in the
Official Journal as a dedicated call for proposals, with supporting
documents made available on the WEB.
The process offers two major advantages. Firstly,
pre-assessment means that prospective applicants can decide whether
to invest time and effort in making a proposal in the knowledge
that the need for research has been independently established. Secondly,
it permits suggestions for research by parties who have identified
important needs, but who do not necessarily have the capability
to conduct the actual RTD. This is particularly appropriate for
research on the development of technical support to standardisation
bodies and agencies involved in the fight against fraud.
The combined expression of interest and dedicated
call mechanism has also helped to overcome the problem of over-subscription.
Some 384 expressions of interest were received for M&T from
22 countries, of which 30% were selected for publication. 75% of
the topics covered met with a response, and about 60% of the proposals
made were successful.
This more flexible approach to defining the
topics of the dedicated calls has been particularly successful in
the standardisation area. The quality of standards and time-to-market
is substantially improved when the work of European standardisation
bodies is complemented by well-targeted pre-normative research.
The technology needed for a new standard may be a spin-off from
research undertaken by industry, universities and national or private
research laboratories, and this has widened and enriched the range
of M&T topics dealt with by the Growth Programme.
||Scope for improvement
Other Commission DGs could be encouraged to
participate more actively. Many regulations and directives are developed
with too little consideration given to the RTD required for their
Another problem encountered under FP5 concerns
the need to achieve a critical mass of RTD in given areas, which
is not helped by the requirement that those who submit an expression
of interest remain anonymous, with no advantages in the selection
process. This has of course ensured fairer competition for funds,
but it hinders the clustering of activities and development of large-scale
The trend towards funding large-scale strategic
projects with European -added value is confirmed in FP6, with money
targeted at key areas such as genomics and nano-technology. The
European Commission has invited those interested in participating
in the new "integrated projects" and "networks of
excellence" to submit an expression of interest on topics that
could be dealt with under these instruments. All relevant information
related to the origin of the document will in future be made available
(unless the submitter is not in agreement), with a view to fostering
contacts between researchers. This should help the Commission and
the wider research community to shape future calls, whilst at the
same time permitting the development of a critical mass of activity.
Carlos Saraiva Martins of the DG Research Measurement
and Testing Infrastructure Unit believes that this trend is essential
if the objectives of the European
Research Area (ERA) are to be met. He says, "We should
all be aware of our responsibilities towards European citizens,
and should see ourselves as scientific officers taking on a new
role as a catalyst between citizens, researchers and national projects".
An analysis of the EoI exercise can be viewed
The two-stage Growth Measurements and Testing
selection process entailing expressions of interest and the dedicated
call has been assessed and improved upon under FP4 and FP5. Under
FP6, the mechanism will allow Europe's research community to help
in preparing first calls and to consolidate the trend towards
large-scale projects, strengthening European competitiveness and
helping to solve major societal problems.