Statement on the Court of Auditors Report on FP7
Brussels, 7 June 2013
The European Court of Auditors has today issued a special report into the functioning of the European Union's seventh research framework programme (FP7) and made several recommendations for improving EU research funding in the future. Michael Jennings, European Commission Spokesperson for Research, Innovation and Science, made the following statement:
"The European Commission considers the Court's report is a reasonable assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of FP7. The report acknowledges areas where the Commission has performed well, while also highlighting a number of critical points. All the recommendations are broadly accepted and will be addressed.
The Commission agrees with the Court's assessment that there is currently too much red tape involved for researchers in EU-funded projects.
That is why the Commission made simplification one of the main objectives of the proposals for Horizon 2020, the research and innovation programme that will follow FP7 next year. The proposals for Horizon 2020 are currently being discussed by EU Member States and the European Parliament.
The Court of Auditors notes that FP7 introduced flat rate payments in a limited number of areas, especially for payments to individual researchers, but that the main financing model continued to be the reimbursement of a proportion of actual costs. It noted that this complex model, combined with different rates of support depending on the type of participant, is burdensome, both for beneficiaries and the administration and reiterated its recommendation for a simpler approach. This is why the Commission has proposed a single funding rate for all participants in a project, and a single flat rate for indirect costs in Horizon 2020.
The Court criticised the fact that beneficiaries' accounting practices are not always accepted. The Commission notes that FP7 rules do allow for this where practicable. However, with nearly 35,000 beneficiaries of FP7 from more than 30 countries, all with different practices, it is not always possible for them to comply with the rules set by the Council and Parliament. During FP7 the Commission made modifications to the rules to try to accept beneficiaries' rules more easily, and this will continue in Horizon 2020.
The Court made a number of observations about the way FP7 contracts were handled internally by different Commission services, each of which manage different programmes, each having their own guidelines, focus, rules and processes. The Commission invited researchers and Member State organisations to notify it of any identified differences using a 'sounding board' and received very few concrete examples.
Nonetheless the Commission has taken steps to reduce these differences, and this will continue, with common services and harmonised IT tools under Horizon 2020.
In general, the Court noted that the Commission's attention has, in FP7, focused mostly on ensuring high-quality spending, less on efficiency. The Commission is pleased that its efforts to improve its service to participants has been recognised. It considers that a high level of service must continue, but will take into account the Court's comments on efficiency in the development of IT systems and the allocation of staff. Efficiency would be aided by simpler rules in Horizon 2020, both for beneficiaries and the administration.
The Commission calls on EU Member States and the European Parliament to reach agreement quickly on Horizon 2020, while maintaining the essential simplification that has been proposed."
Press contact: Michael Jennings, Tel. +322 2963388