Although it is accepted that the impact of RTD activities on competitiveness and employment is neither direct nor immediate, the fact that they are crucial for the long term remains uncontested. This is easier to evaluate in the case of technological research which results in measurable products: patents, standards, new goods, services or processes, etc.
It is thus possible to observe the effect of a technological research project on the activities of the firms participating several years later. The 1998 survey of a sample of projects from the BRITE-EURAM programme (on industrial and materials technologies) concluded that four years after completion of the research they had had a direct economic impact amounting, on average, to six times the total cost of the research, i.e. 12 times the level of Community funding, and had had a positive net impact on employment.12 However, surveys of this type cannot analyse all the effects of research which, even in the case of technological research and all the more so for basic research, are largely indirect and diffuse.
RTD Projets for competitiveness and employment
- One example of technology transfer from Community research in 1998 was the development of a compact (175m instead of 1400) rolling mill causing less pollution, consuming less energy and offering exceptional yield thanks to a continuous production process: the core of the mill is a magnetic induction furnace designed from mathematical and computer models developed in a completely different field for the Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion programme.
- One of the most remarkable examples of economic development as a result of Community research was an RTD project on wind power which enabled a German company to develop and put on the market new products, including a gearless turbine offering high performance at far lower cost. These have considerably expanded the market of this company, to the extent that it has built up a network of branches across Europe and in India and has become the world number two in this sector, jumping from 20 to 850 employees.
- Software optimising the supply-production-demand chain has been developed from theoretical research into artificial intelligence and combinatorial analysis under the ESPRIT programme. Applications have brought productivity improvements of 30% in the clothing, drink packaging and car industries.
In May 1998 the Commission organised an international conference on evaluation of the results and impact of RTD and gave a group of experts a mandate to pursue this subject. Their report13 stressed that research has a wide variety of effects, depending on external factors, such as other complementary RTD projects, the creation of the right climate for application or dissemination of the results, the availability of competent managers, etc. These points validate the integrated approach taken in the 5th Framework Programme, while highlighting the inherent limits of evaluation of the socioeconomic impact. As recommended by the group of experts, the Commission will continue this evaluation, applying a variety of complementary approaches and methods.
The important contribution made by the European Union's research to standardisation was underlined in a working paper published by the Commission in 1998.14 In addition to the Standards, Measurements and Testing programme, the Joint Research Centre and several of the specific programmes have established formal links with the European standardisation bodies; to varying degrees, all the programmes include a prenormative dimension. The technological implementation plan attached to each RTD contract under the 5th Framework Programme will ensure that attention is always paid to the standardisation aspects.
This standardisation side of Community research plays an important role in quality of life; for example, the 20 certified reference materials (CRM) prepared in 1998 in the Standards, Measurements and Testing programme provide the baseline required for activities as diverse as medical diagnosis, cosmetics and environmental monitoring.
More broadly, however, most of the specific programmes support projects contributing to improving quality of life.
RTD Projets for quality of life
Numerous innovative avenues are being explored in the research on health and nutrition. For example, a consortium funded by the Biomed programme has developed a gene therapy against arteriosclerosis, one of the leading causes of death in Europe. In the food sector, a European project developed an ultrasonic method for monitoring cheese quality in the days following production, whereas conventional methods work only for cheeses over four months' old.
- To understand and conserve the environment, an Earth observation instrument specially adapted for monitoring vegetation cover was fitted to the SPOT4 satellite launched in March 1998, thanks to a Community contribution of 46%. This instrument, named "Végétation", frees the European Union of its dependence on US satellites which, in any case, are less suitable for applications of this type and allows virtually day-to-day monitoring of vegetation cover all over the world, certain aspects of degradation of the environment, forest fires, agricultural performance, etc.
- A number of European projects are helping to combat natural or man-made hazards. For example, the PROVOST project was able to model the impact of the "El Niño" cycle in order to predict well in advance the changes which it produces in the climate - droughts, flooding, etc., not only in Europe but throughout the world. The Nuclear Safety programme is supporting a series of RTD activities to improve treatment and storage of nuclear wastes and to make the existing nuclear power stations even safer. Another example is the research supported by the Union on demining which should lead, in particular, to multisensor detectors combining several different methods of detection to achieve optimum efficiency.
- Turning to transport, European research has for example enabled a methodology for estimating emissions and energy consumption to be established for all modes of transport (road, rail, maritime and air). This methodology will allow environmental aspects to be taken into account in a harmonised fashion in the planning of transport systems, notably in the framework of emission inventories defined under international conventions. In the shorter term, the CREST project will bring big improvements in child safety in motor vehicles; analysis and reconstruction of the conditions for large numbers of real accidents have already resulted in more realistic dummies of children for use in safety tests.
- Conservation of Europe's cultural heritage was also covered by one set of research projects supported by the Framework Programme. The IMMACO project, for example, to produce certified reference materials for five alloys representative of the great metal age civilisations will make it easier to study prehistoric and ancient objects and to develop new precision tools for conserving and restoring them. Another European partnership has devised a laser system for cleaning buildings capable of removing dirt without abrasion of the stonework. It is particularly suitable for fragile historic monuments and has been tested on Milan Cathedral and the Strozzi Palace in Florence and was used recently to clean the statues on Brussels City Hall.
12- Industrial technologies: Impact predicted, impact delivered,
European Commission, Nov. 1998.
13- Options and Limits for Assessing the Socioeconomic Impact of European RTD Programmes, report by the Independent Group of Experts to the European Commission, DG XII (Evaluation Unit), January 1999.
14- Research and Standardisation, Commission working paper COM(1998) 31, 27 January 1998.