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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 46 - August 2005    
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EUROPEAN RESEARCH POLICY
Title  Five-yearly assessment: interview with Erkki Ormala

Published in February 2005, the Ormala report – named after the chair of the group which drafted it – provides the five-yearly assessment (covering 1999-2003) of the implementation of the EU's R&D Framework Programmes, or the FYA for short. In less than 40 pages, this examination of the current performance and outcomes of the Union's science and technology policy has resulted in an independent and original view of its strengths and weaknesses. RTD info talks to Erkki Ormala, Vice-President of technology policy at Finland's Nokia Group, to get the inside track on this landmark report.

Errki Ormala
Errki Ormala
Reading your report, the ‘five-yearly evaluation’ mission with which your working group was charged was part of a very wide analysis of the implications of European research policy. Why this approach?
Erkki Ormala – From the start, discussions between the panel members – who were drawn from different backgrounds – showed to what extent the fundamental changes and challenges facing European research policy really had to constitute the backdrop to our own evaluation mission.

Before joining the Nokia Group, I was secretary-general of the Finnish Science and Technology Policy Council, where I was also fully involved in intensive assessment exercises of this type for 12 years. The Council is governed quite uniquely in Europe, not only like a classical independent advisory body, but also as a strategy-shaping institution – where political decision-makers and independent academic and industrial experts jointly design and formulate concrete actions for enhancing national research policy.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Finland faced a serious recession and was in deep economic trouble. At that time, the Council played an extremely important role in shaping the policy and the knowledge‑intensive strength that led Finland out of the recession and, in fact, created an economic growth of approximately 5% per year in the latter part of the 1990s.

At the European level, I also had the privilege of chairing, in 1992-1993, the same kind of in-depth assessment panel as the FYA. It was set up to evaluate the economic and industrial impact of the Eureka scheme. Being part of the FYA has been a very interesting experience for me. It has enabled me to compare the European landscape in which R&D was taking place ten to15 years ago with the situation today, and to understand how much it has changed in the intervening years.

What has changed?
We tried to have a longer-term perspective. If you look at the 1980s, the first two Framework Programmes were much smaller in scale and also much more focused on limited priorities, mainly on the driving themes of information technology and energy. At that time, we could really see that the Framework Programme was making a significant contribution to these sectors.

Then, gradually, the Programmes were scaled up. European research also raised a lot more interest among the different stakeholders. And that, of course, started the evolution towards a more holistic perception of the Framework Programmes, i.e. that they should have a wider scope. Currently, I have the feeling that we are moving towards multiplying the number of sectors which need attention, and must not be neglected, at the European level. In the end, we have a bit of everything – a very fragmented scheme. Meanwhile, the Framework Programmes have gradually come to reflect the approach that each of the Member States follows for their own R&D strategies. This has brought about a sort of replication of the national R&D agendas at the European level.

Is this holistic perception not justified by the expansion of European competencies?
Of course, an important role of the Framework Programmes is to support the Union's policies. Nevertheless, we found clear evidence that, in some parts of the European R&D landscape, the Framework Programme has become something of a, let’s say, ‘standard funding tool’. It appears that several institutions in big and small countries alike, be they universities or research institutions, and even industry, fund part of their ordinary work through the Framework Programme. They even budget these resources in their yearly provisions in such a way that European money becomes a kind of substitute for national funding.

The Framework Programme is not capable of substituting national programmes. We should bear in mind one fundamental fact: the EU research budget represents something like 5% of total European public R&D expenditure. This means that it cannot and must not be equivalent to what Member States are doing. Community actions must provide European value added.

For me, the main underlying message the panel delivered is that we would like to see the Framework Programme revisited. We should not ask what we can do at the European level, but what cannot be done at the national level.

For you, is European value added defined essentially by the limits of national capacities?
Right. First, ideally, Member States have to take care of their own research systems and make them sufficiently strong. Then, they can carry out the activities which they really cannot do by themselves by using the opportunities within the Framework Programme – by utilising their best talents and working together with European colleagues and maybe colleagues from outside Europe.

The second dimension of value added relates to the risk level. European research policy should create the critical mass to cover that R&D expenditure which carries such a high risk that not even national budgets can cover it, for instance, as is the case with sophisticated infrastructures.

But it is also essential in the choice of the R&D support priorities of the Framework Programme. Without that, when we take into account the overall European resources in each of these specific areas – even if, as announced, they will radically grow for the Seventh Framework Programme – they easily become fragmented and marginalised because they cannot really make a difference.

This is a very different approach to the design and the building of the Framework Programme. We wrote our report very carefully because it was not our mission to say how many themes we would like the Framework Programme to address. We simply said that it should be significantly lower than is the case today.

We need a strong commitment, a strong investment in those key areas in which Europe is strategically lagging behind. At the moment, the Union is losing more industrial R&D than it is gaining. Therefore, concerted action is necessary to turn the trend, thereby bringing strategic thinking back into the Framework Programme. We are not talking here about fine-tuning, but about major questions relating to our future in terms of economic or social existence, and the way that we want to live in Europe. Our message is that it is not too late. Not yet. But in a couple of years’ time, it may be.

For instance, the European pharmaceutical industry spent 73% of its R&D in the Union in the 1990s. Today, it is closer to 50%. Another example is the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Europe’s overall investment in ICT related to R&D is less than 30% of the US investment and 60% of Japanese spending. If we do not react to these indications, if we are not able to change the trend, we are going to lose leadership in a number of strategic industries which are a significant part of the European economy.

Evolution of the share of FP funding by type of participant (sharedcostactions only) - Source: Research DG


 

Analysing the involvement of industry in European research, the report states that its average rate of participation within the programmes is currently around 30%, which is not a huge figure.
We could certainly wish for a better figure. And the fact is that the trend is going down. Actually, the participation of industry is also a question of the challenges faced by different sectors. What could be said is that, when objectives of research are very important for European industrial competitiveness, they should be industry-driven. Often projects do not respect that priority. They are coordinated by universities or other research organisations which are collecting support from industrial corporations. The opposite situation was more frequent in the very first Framework Programmes. This is something that we hear throughout Europe from industrial participants: they feel they are, in a way, left out. They are not in the driving seat anymore. Finally, I would say that it really does not matter so much whether the global percentage is 30% or 40%, because the prime question is the role industry can play in the implementation of the European Framework Programmes.

How should the university-industry relationship evolve in Europe?
The problem in Europe is that we do not have many strong centres of excellence, like MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, and Columbia in the USA, which are leading academic research institutions. Industry cannot find these kinds of partners, but this is not to say that we should establish a separate European MIT, a new institution somewhere. We have to reconcile ourselves with the different approach and attitudes to public‑private partnerships in each Member State. Today, we simply must be able to use the best universities that we have in Europe, to start strengthening them and creating an incentive structure where they would have a genuine interest in collaborating with industry. This is the culture that we are lacking in Europe. This is one of the reasons why we supported the idea of establishing the new European Research Council which could play this role in the field of basic research.

    
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