The final points discussed were
the 34 amendments proposed by the Parliament in its conclusions
following the second reading of the common position adopted by the
ministers in January. European Members of Parliament had stressed
in particular that greater priority should be awarded to research
on certain diseases - such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative
diseases and children’s diseases.
The Council decided to include these amendments.
The final agreement brings adjustments to the content and financial
breakdown of certain research priorities. However, the total budget
for the Framework Programme - €17.5 billion - remains unchanged.
The home straight: rules of participation
The task now is to define the rules of participation
for the new Framework Programme. This is particularly important
as new instruments have been introduced bringing significant changes
to the scope for co-operation between European research teams. The
Commission’s services have drawn up many detailed working
documents as a basis for discussions on programme implementation
during the latter half of 2002. These relate mainly to the rules
for the selection, implementation and financing of integrated projects
and networks of excellence and other Framework Programme instruments.
Of particular significance is the new ‘application of Article
169’ by virtue of which it is possible for the Commission
to contribute financially to research programmes undertaken by a
limited number of Member States. Transitional measures are also
planned for the provisional continuation of the traditional aid
provided under previous Framework Programmes (so-called targeted
research projects - especially for SMEs - as well as concerted
actions and accompanying measures).
Definition 1: integrated projects (IPs)
Integrated projects are research initiatives
aimed at mobilising a critical mass of resources and multidisciplinary
activities in pursuit of clearly stated scientific and technological
objectives on a scale which is judged significant and ambitious
in terms of knowledge production and applications.
The expression critical mass refers to the
number of participating teams and countries, the amount of financing
required and the multi-annual time-scale made necessary by the scale
of the objectives. The desired integrating dimension in terms of
research and development could include demonstration activities
and the training of researchers.
The support for IPs will be in the form of
a Commission grant to the budget based on three fixed rate categories
of contribution: 50% for research activities proper, 35% for demonstration
activities and 100% for management costs and the training of researchers.
Advance payments will be made on the basis of the costs stated and
approved in the project working plans, with subsequent annual adjustment
following audit reports on the real costs incurred.
Definition 2: networks of excellence (NEs)
Commission support for networks of excellence
will aim to harness and strengthen high-level expertise and
research capacities in the interests of research projects which
relate directly to the Sixth Framework Programme thematic priorities
as a means of addressing the present fragmentation of European research.
Within their individual fields, these networks must aim to achieve
a lasting integration of these capacities and permit the
diffusion of excellence within the teams in question and a strengthening
of their scientific and technological progress and standing at world
The networks of excellence must also achieve a
critical mass, in terms of the number of teams and researchers
involved for example. In the specific fields where they are trying
to increase their excellence, they must be based on joint programmes
of activities of a lasting nature and incorporating various aspects:
coordination of their respective research and/or equipment plans,
joint projects, reciprocal access to their physical or virtual infrastructures,
transfer of knowledge and know-how, training and exchange of researchers,
etc. Each network will have to set up a joint management structure
to achieve these objectives. Although they will have to report to
the Commission on the content and implementation of their joint
programme of activity, the NEs will have a large measure of autonomy
and flexibility in terms of their operation and organisation.
As it is not easy to express the cost of creating
NEs in terms of tangible expenses, the Commission’s financial
contribution will be based on the principle of a fixed grant
for integration. The present idea is to apply a sliding scale
contribution linked to the number of researchers in the network.
For example, a network of between 50 and 150 researchers will receive
a grant equivalent to €20 000 per person per year. In the case
of 250 researchers, the global allocation will be €4 million
a year, increasing to €6 million for 1 000 researchers, etc.
The grant will also decrease over time as the Commission wants the
networks to enjoy increased autonomy and not to become systematically
dependent on European subsidies.
Innovation 1: expression of interest
One innovation concerns calls for expressions
of interest. These will be introduced this year for the major thematic
priorities of the new Framework Programme and will be used increasingly
in developing future programmes and drawing up calls for proposals
for the submission of projects. They are likely to prove a valuable
instrument of dialogue between the world of science and technology
and the developers of European research actions.
Innovation 2: two-stage submission
Another useful technique is the two-stage
submission which will reduce the often excessively high ‘failure’
rate of the past. Under this procedure, applicants can first submit
a brief outline of their idea for a response to a call for proposals.
If this passes the initial peer review by members of the evaluation
committee, the full submission process - involving much more thought,
co-operation (partnership creation) and technical and financial
programming - can begin on the basis of more encouraging prospects
As European research
programmes have grown in scale so the problems of their
operational management - launching calls for proposals,
project evaluation, selection and follow-up, and financial
and contractual management - have become more complex.
The requirements are many: decisions taken must be fair
and transparent, flexible and efficient; deadlines for
implementation must be as short as possible; financial
rigour must be respected.
To ensure this is the
case, the Commission draws extensively on expertise
outside the scientific and industrial community. When
evaluating and selecting projects for financial support,
for example, a system of peer review applies, exercised
by panels of experts recruited following public calls
In the run-up to the
launch of the Sixth Framework Programme, a process of
reflection and consultation is under way with a view
to implementing the adapted and improved procedures
required by the new approaches and instruments. The
Commission’s main partner in this process is the
European Research Advisory Board (EURAB), set up in
2001 on the initiative of Commissioner Philippe Busquin,
and which includes representatives of European scientific
and industrial communities. EURAB has just submitted
a series of recommen-dations - in particular on the
key question of project selection criteria - which should
play a determining role in this final stage of defining
the rules of participation in the Sixth Framework Programme.
The Sixth Framework Programme
includes an innovative system of support for research
infrastructures (with a budget of €655 million,
30% of which will be reserved for the major Géant
and GRID electronic interconnection projects which are
already well advanced). To find out more about the new
aspects of this policy, see the site:
towards on-line integration
The CORDIS WEB technical
service - for on-line aid to European research players
seeking to participate in the Sixth Framework Programme
- is developing an informatics system, known as FP6
IT SYSTEM, to provide on-line interconnection of databases
in the field of project proposals, evaluation information,
expert on-line registration and project information.
a new inter-state tool
The third activity of
the Sixth Framework Programme – Strengthening
the foundations of the European Research Area –
is designed to provide Community support for co-operation
between and coordination of research activities under
the science and technology policies of the Member States.
The Commission is developing an on-line tool for this
which will make it possible to visualise the potential
for networking these programmes and the opportunities
they offer for European researchers from other countries.
Bioethics is a sensitive
issue which was central to the compromise reached by
the Parliament and Council on the adoption of the Sixth
Framework Programme. The field is all the more complex
as different Member States have different approaches
to certain ethical issues. The Commission is nevertheless
committed to applying very strict rules so as to avoid
any danger of funding research which could lead to genetic
engineering or human cloning, as well as any artificial
production of embryos for scientific purposes.