Research and Technological Development Activities of the European Union - 2000 Annual Report
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This annual report on the European Union's RTD activities takes stock of a period in which there were many new developments. Following the European Parliament elections and the appointment of the new Commission, there has been a substantial move towards giving European research policy a more political and more ambitious profile, as endorsed by the Research Ministers. On 18 January 2000 the Commission adopted the Communication Towards a European Research Area which recognises that the EU is spending less on research than its main competitors and that the gap is widening. The Commission therefore calls for the concerted mobilisation of the relevant policies and instruments at all levels. It identifies priority targets for creating a coherent research area in terms of human, material and financial resources that is attractive at international level and takes social concerns into account. The Commission's ideas aroused considerable interest among all the parties concerned, and were supported by the European Parliament and endorsed by the Lisbon European Council which gave them operational status by setting out implementation details and a timetable.
Where Community research activities proper are concerned, the 5th Framework Programme for RTD was launched. Researchers and research users helped to choose and revise the priorities in the 21 expert advisory groups for the programmes and key actions. The first calls for proposals were launched in March 1999 and over 16 000 proposals were received in the course of the year. This massive number of proposals is encouraging, especially as it reflects significant participation by the countries in the pre-accession phase which are now associated with the Framework Programme. The key actions accounted for 85% of the resources for the thematic programmes and made it possible to launch large-scale research partnerships (with an average Community contribution of €1.7 million) with major synergies ;between projects. The generic RTD activities and infrastructure support activities also generated large-scale projects and support for researcher mobility was stepped up. In the framework of all these activities special efforts were made both to encourage participation by women and comply with fundamental ethical principles, and to reconcile the need for consistency and administrative rigour with ease of access.
The impact of Community research is bound up with its transnational networks involving the business world, academia and research centres, as well as the access to European research offered to many SMEs (22% of all participations). This impact is reinforced by the fact that the 5th Framework Programme (both indirect activities and the activities of the Joint Research Centre) is directed towards major social and economic issues. Community research also plays a positive role in the drive towards European cohesion. Last but not least, it ensures consistency between certain types of RTD conducted in Europe and, in this connection, activities aimed at "combining" national and European policies could be stepped up. Major steps are due to be taken to bring about the European Research Area in practical terms. The contribution of the Fifth Framework Programme to this undertaking is one of the aspects of its mid-term review. Looking to the longer term, in the autumn the Commission will also be adopting a strategic communication setting out its initial thinking on Community research after 2002.