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image European Research News Centre > Energy > Far from finished
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Far from finished
RDT info 35
  The end of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty does not signify that a technological era is over either at the European or global level. Coal and steel will continue to play major roles in the areas of energy and basic materials for many years to come. Keen to conserve the dynamic role of Community innovation, which had kept European know-how at the forefront of both sectors, the Member States decided to use all the residual funds from the treaty to continue specific research in these key areas.

Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the treaty establishing the ECSC in Paris on 18 April 1951. It was the practical follow-up to the declaration(1) by French Foreign Minister Robert Schumann on 9 May 1950 that proposed placing Franco-German production of coal and steel under a common High Authority within the framework of an organisation open to participation by other European countries. This first European Community set out to put an end to a century of national rivalries by a peaceful reconstruction based on shared interests. It was also an institutional test bed from which several years later developed the more ambitious Treaty of Rome establishing the Common Market.

Research-based strategy

Over the next five decades, the ECSC played a major economic role which extended far beyond these two industries. Coal and steel were important elements in rebuilding Europe immediately after the war and through the 1950s and 1960s, but the subsequent major decline in demand for both could have plunged Western Europe into a dangerous economic recession. The ECSC functioned smoothly in striking the right balance by improving productivity and by developing products to support new industries. An essential characteristic of the ECSC was the considerable means dedicated to research.

Subsequently, the ECSC helped to develop an organised response when the coal and steel industries went into deep crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. This made it possible to carry out the necessary industrial restructuring and conversion while placing particular emphasis on the protection of workers’ rights, in keeping with the European social model.

A key component of the ERA

The 23 July 2002 marked a definitive step in EU history as the 50-year-old treaty expired. After that date, all remaining available ECSC funds – some €1.6 billion – would normally have reverted to the Member States. However, the innovative spirit that helped develop the ECSC research programme as a very strong element of the European Research Area led to the Council agreeing to continue common funding of RTD in these two sectors. Under the management of the European Commission, that decision will provide some €45 million a year which will cover activities not included in the Sixth Framework Programme. The funding will be split into 27.2% for coal-related research and 72.8% for steel-related research.

Coal offers an indispensable source of energy in the context of the overall European strategy for the security of its energy supply. But, even if research has enabled considerable progress, the challenge still remains to make it cleaner and to reduce emissions of CO2 that contribute to the greenhouse effect.

The production of steel is closely linked to coal and shares the challenges. However, it has now established itself as a flexible, high-technology material adding value to a wide range of applications. The Commission will manage future research in both areas with even greater emphasis on the environmental objectives.

(1) /abc/symbols/9-may/decl_en.htm
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