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image European Research News Centre > European Research Policy > Sixth Framework Programme in the starting blocks
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image image image Date published: 28/08/02
  image Sixth Framework Programme
in the starting blocks
RTD info 34
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  Thanks to the energetic efforts of the Spanish presidency, on 3 June the Council of Ministers, European Parliament and Commission officially concluded negotiations on the final content of the Sixth Framework Programme 2002-2006. Completion of this crucial stage should ensure that the timetable is respected: calls for proposals will be launched before the end of the year and the first Community financing contracts will be able to start from the beginning of 2003.
   
     
   

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 level.

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 of success.


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New management

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 for applications.

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.

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Research infrastructures

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:
http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp6/
infrastructures_en.html

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CORDIS: 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.
http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp6/it-system/index_en.html

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ERA-NET, 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.
http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp6/era-net.html

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Highlighting ethics

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.

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Sixth Framework Programme
2002 - 2006

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Sixth Framework Programme 2002 - 2006

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Philippe Busquin, Commissioner responsible for research

Philippe Busquin, Commissioner responsible for research

‘For the first time in the history of Community research, we have not left adoption of the Framework Programm to the very last moment - we have time to guarantee that it will be launched and implemented under the very best conditions.'

 


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