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image European Research News Centre > European Research Policy > Widening the horizons of European research
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Widening the horizons of European research
RTD info special
"EU enlargement"
  It is now ten years since the candidate countries first became involved in European Union Research Framework Programmes. Participation has progressively had a huge impact on R&D policies in these countries, speeding up their integration into the EU research community and improving their research conditions, training and facilities. This progress is expected to continue at full speed under the Sixth Framework Programme.

As the main driver for innovation and economic development, R&D plays a key role in reviving the economies of the candidate countries and ensuring their full integration into the global market. Policy-makers in these counties know that to become truly competitive they must increase inward investment and restructure their science and technology capacities. In this respect, access to EU-funded research programmes - and future EU membership - is critical.

Co-operation with the research community in the candidate countries began in 1992 under the Third Framework Programme's PECO/Copernicus programme. This was set up to preserve the valuable scientific potential and expertise of ten countries of central and eastern Europe, all of which were facing drastic cuts in national research funding in the post-Communist era. Over 3 200 projects totalling €93 million were funded under FP3 from the 12 393 proposals received.

Under FP4, all Community programmes were open to candidate country participation. Copernicus, part of the specific programme for international co-operation (INCO), was the main instrument for S&T co-operation and played a large part in helping to stabilise and eventually restructure the R&D systems through the candidate countries. More than €300 million was allocated under FP4 to candidate country projects.

Improved status, stronger ties

The arrival of FP5 in 1998 brought with it a change of status for candidate countries. Twelve states signed an association agreement to FP5, allowing their research institutes, universities and industries to participate fully in the research projects under the same conditions as Member State organisations. This new status, which involves a financial contribution by each country to the overall FP5 budget, based on their GDP ratio, makes research the first area where the applicants were treated as fully-fledged Member States.

FP5 created many opportunities for both Member States and the newly associated states (NAS). It had a real impact on the national research policies in the NAS, speeding up their integration into the S&T community at European level and improving their research conditions and facilities.

Special initiatives were put in place to integrate the future Member States into European R&D community, the most important of which was the setting up of a network of independent, multidisciplinary centres of excellence. Thirty-four R&D institutions in 11 candidate countries were picked to establish these centres in the NAS. The Commission provided funding to a tune of €24 million to enable the centres to carry out research and to build strong partnerships.

In the case of existing Member States, FP5 created opportunities to co-operate with the NAS, providing a source of qualified research personnel, with world-class expertise and a high potential in terms of intellectual capacity and know-how. Furthermore, association also meant that the national RTD programmes in the NAS were now open to EU participation, giving new research opportunities to EU researchers. With FP5, 17.6% of all contracts - i.e. 1 500 research projects - included at least one candidate country partner.

But experience shows that certain NAS have difficulties taking advantage of the opportunities, mainly because of the diversity in approach, policies and research structures already in FP5. To encourage more researchers to participate in FP5, the Commission allocated almost €90 million to special initiatives during 2001.

FP6 heralds a new ERA

In a break with tradition, the Commission's new Framework Programme has introduced two new instruments - Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects - to help give EU activities a greater impact and bring about a stronger structuring effect on EU research.

Networks of Excellence aim to reinforce and integrate European expertise in certain research sectors. Network members will be based in different countries - either at universities, research centres or companies - and will implement a joint programme of research activities.

Integrated Projects will become the key tools used to implement the seven priority areas in FP6. Each project will bring together a critical mass of scientific and industrial partners in order to meet well-defined research goals.

For the candidate countries, the launch of FP6 comes at a critical moment in the enlargement negotiations. By the end of the year, it is hoped that at least ten countries will conclude talks with the EU, paving the way for full accession by 2004. In the interim period, all are expected to apply for associated status to FP6, once again giving them the same entitlements as Member States. The Commission is keen for the candidate countries to get involved in FP6 from day one and has met with representatives from their research ministries to discuss the legal basis for involvement and, in particular, what their financial contribution should be in the period prior to full membership. During this time, the candidate countries will pay a contribution into the FP6 budget based on their GDP ratio. The Commission intends to offer candidate countries rebates of 30% and 20% for the first two years of participation, respectively. Once they become full Member States, their direct contribution to the FP6 budget will end and will come from the overall EU budget.

Seizing the opportunities

One major development in FP6 is that research projects can now involve organisations from the candidate countries only, so as a result, the number of proposals is expected to increase. To encourage maximum participation in FP6 priority thematic areas, the Commission is planning to introduce several special support actions:

  • Funding for centres of excellence: Under FP6, funding will continue for the 34 centres of excellence set up under FP5, to encourage co-operation between centres in the 12 countries and with existing Member States.
  • Matching partners: An inventory of potential research partners in the candidate countries is also under consideration. This would involve, for example, a dedicated CORDIS webpage giving details on candidate country expertise in particular research fields, contact details, etc.
  • Support for SMEs: To encourage the participation of SMEs, small research teams, and research centres in FP6, the Commission seems likely to introduce an incentive scheme called the 'Success Awards'. This would offer a financial award to SMEs submitting an eligible proposal and to those organisations helping to put successful proposals together.
  • Encouraging mobility: Funding will be made available for scientists to visit colleagues elsewhere to discuss projects, to participate in international conferences and to organise high-level conferences in their home countries.
  • Improving information flow: Special measures will be supported to improve information flow on FP6 projects between Member States, candidate countries and the Commission.
  • Evaluating research systems: To help candidate countries improve their research structures, the Commission will fund independent, unbiased evaluation of their research systems and policies in various R&D fields.
  • Tailor-made training: Workshops for research managers and administrators will be set up on topics such as how to write and evaluate an FP6 project proposal, how to manage a project, and how to fully exploit research results.

Previous Research Framework Programmes have given a strong indication of candidate countries' skills and competencies. FP6 acknowledges this by creating new instruments to capitalise on these strengths to move the enlarged EU ever nearer to its goal of becoming the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based society in the world by 2010.

Participation of research entities in FP5 projects by candidate country

  • Bulgaria - 126 projects
  • Cyprus - 72 projects
  • Czech Republic - 387 projects
  • Estonia - 99 projects
  • Hungary - 358 projects
  • Latvia - 83 projects
  • Lithuania - 62 projects
  • Malta - 16 projects
  • Poland - 457 projects
  • Romania - 154 projects
  • Slovakia - 136 projects
  • Slovenia - 198 projects

Source: European Commission, May 2002

Statistical overview of R&D in the candidate countries


Czech Rep

expenditure as
% of GDP

personnel as
% of workforce

EU-15 1.92 1.33
Source: Eurostat. Data for 1999.
* Data for 1996.
No data available for Malta.

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