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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 49 - May 2006    
 Security: research under starter’s orders
 ITER settles in Cadarache
 Mapping the contours of humanity
 On the trail of the human phenomenon
 Ene Ergma: the political physicist
 The enigma of the blue algae
 The virtual encyclopaedia of fish

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EMBO: scientists, create your own labs…

EMBO: scientists, create your own labs…
The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) is launching a new scheme to help talented scientists to develop their research under optimal conditions in Europe. The EMBO’s Strategic Development Installation Grants will help them to set up their own laboratory in a scientific institution based in one of the 25 member countries of the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC).(1) This new form of aid, of an annual amount of €50 000 for five years, is awarded directly to the prizewinners. “We hope that this scheme will help stimulate research in the participating countries and contribute to the future well-being of European science, driving economic and social development,” declared Frank Gannon, EMBO Executive Director, on launching this initiative.

The choice of candidates is highly selective and take into account their scientific excellence. The six first prizewinners will be setting up their laboratories in a Central European country. 

(1) The EMBC supports long-term EMBO actions and promotes a transnational approach to the life sciences. 

Making our cities viable Habitats

Making our cities a viable Habitat
“Realising our shared desire for better economic growth, more social justice, improved health and biodiversity and strengthened climate protection will be largely dependent upon our ability to manage our towns and cities and their urbanisation. No human settlement, and thus no society, can claim to be ‘sustainable’ if a large proportion of its population is living in poverty, in precarious housing, without access to running water, with no sanitation, without education or health care,” said Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN Habitat programme. She was addressing the Heads of state and government assembled for the ninth special session of the Governing Council and Global Ministerial Forum of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Dubai in February.

The Habitat programme aims to provide a maximum number of people with decent housing and day-to-day living conditions by 2020. The European Commission has signed a protocol agreement with the programme to develop research activities in pursuit of this goal, relating in particular to long-term objectives for urbanism, water management, improvements to sanitation and land use. This work is all the more important as the world population is expected to stand at over 10 billion by 2050. At present, almost 80% of EU citizens live in towns and cities and the development of these urban areas will require some specific and particularly dramatic measures, if these (over)populated areas are going to be able to meet the economic, social, cultural and environmental challenges they are facing. 

More than 250 projects have been financed by the EU Framework Programme for Research and the UN Habitat programme. A database on these projects will make it possible, during the latter half of 2006, to gain access to the results, which are likely to be of interest first and foremost to policy-makers.

Faculty of 1000

The experts know all about ‘Faculty of 1000 Biology’, which was launched in 2002. Developed by Vitek Tracz, President of the Science Navigation Group, it is run by experts, researchers and clinicians of the greatest renown. They share the task of classifying articles within their specialist field on the basis of the scientific value they award to them rather than the status of the journals in which they are published. The selected texts, accompanied by comments, are classed according to ‘genre’ (New Finding, Technical Advance, Interesting Hypothesis, Important Confirmation, Controversial Findings) and rated for interest value (Recommended, Must Read, Exceptional).

‘Faculty of 1000 Medicine’ was launched at the beginning of 2006 using the same model. Although the trademark figure of 1 000 is retained in the name, 2 500 researchers and clinicians in fact participate. Whether in the field of biology or medicine, this selection seems to be much appreciated by those who need to try to find their bearings among the countless publications produced. Different rates apply for private and institutional subscribers. The service is free of charge for developing countries. 

2006 – In praise of mobility…

The European Year of Workers’ Mobility Logo
The European Year of Workers’ Mobility was launched in February. Does this mean that Europeans are well and truly on the move? Not really. Just 2% of Europeans of working age live abroad – the same as 30 years ago – and 70% have no plans to do so in the near future. In the latest Eurobarometer survey on the subject (24 000 people polled in September 2005), 53% of those interviewed were in principle in favour of ‘freedom to travel and to work in the Union’. But when it comes to making the actual move, the picture is very different. The main factors working against expatriation are family ties and reluctance to abandon a certain happiness enjoyed in familiar surroundings. But 66% of Europeans would be prepared to leave their region if work made this necessary.

The Northern Europeans (79% of Swedes, 72% of Danes) are the clear leaders in accepting that job mobility is an asset (compared with less than a third of respondents in Belgium, Germany, Estonia and Greece). Job mobility is, nevertheless, becoming an increasingly inescapable reality and various studies indicate that a change of job can lead to the acquisition of new skills, increased personal satisfaction, and an improved capacity for professional integration or reintegration. 

With a budget of €10 million, the Year of Workers’ Mobility, organised by the EU, will support projects to increase awareness, concrete events and actions to encourage job mobility. The most practical is the launch of the new Eures website. This offers four sections: finding a job, online CV posting, training, and living and working. It should be possible to consult a million on-line job offers, posted by the public employment services in 28 European countries. Almost 900 000 CVs and around 60 000 employers are currently registered.

The ‘living and working’ section gives a range of practical information on subjects such as seeking accommodation or a school, taxation, cost of living, health care, social legislation and the comparability of qualifications. It also gives the contact details of a network of seven advisers charged with assisting mobility candidates. 

Of particular note among upcoming events is the major conference on mobility, to be held in June in Vienna, and a vast Job Fair Europe, in September, with job fairs held in about 50 European towns. The media will be running various information campaigns, especially in the free magazines distributed on European metro systems. A blog will be set up on the European Year’s website and special activities will be organised in cross-border regions. In short, there is a lot of movement on the mobility front. 

Showcasing European research and innovation

Researchers, industry representatives, curious members of the public, and young people interested in science and discovery will all be present at this year’s exhibition where visitors will have the chance to explore the pathways that lead from ideas to development and from development to dissemination. In the process, they will also learn something of the day-to-day reality of life in a laboratory. A number of services are also available, such as individual advice on how to present an impressive CV or draw up a professional project. There will also be the opportunity to participate in debates and attend conferences.  

This year’s exhibition is targeting 11 major themes covering just about every imaginable field. The subjects presented during this four-day event will span the hard and the soft sciences, sophisticated technologies and fundamental research: Energy; health, medicine and biotechnologies; new information and communication technologies and mathematics; technologies that will affect day-to-day life in the future; the earth sciences and the universe; the environment and sustainable development; the sciences of ‘inert’ matter; civilisations and societies; research and companies; scientific careers; research and politics: the exhibition has them all. There is also an ‘industrial and services companies’ centre focusing on six sectors of activity: the automobile; energy; chemicals; information and communication technologies; health-pharmacy.

“The European Research & Innovation Exhibition is an excellent illustration of what we are encouraging in our Science and Society programme,” said Jean-Michel Baer, the programme’s director, at the Research Directorate-General. “It is the reason for our presence at this event at a time when research has become one of the EU’s [top] priorities with the launch of the Seventh Framework Programme.” 

The Exhibition will be held in Paris, at the Porte de Versailles, from 8 to 11 June 2006.

R&D: actions not words

In December 2005, the European Commission invited a group of four experts (1) to give an opinion on how best to improve the EU’s performances in the field of research and innovation. Their vision is not exactly optimistic and the number of corrective measures proposed is considerable. Headed by Esko Aho, former Prime Minister of Finland, the group concluded that there is a huge gap between the political rhetoric and the means provided. For example, since the Lisbon summit of 2000, the message has been that Europe will become the world’s most competitive knowledge-based society. Who really believed this? Who is acquiring the means to achieve it? In their final report, the experts call for the creation of a genuine pact for research and innovation, entered into by political, business and social leaders who should solemnly affirm their commitment. They also propose a four-point strategy to create innovation-friendly markets, strengthen R&D resources, increase structural mobility, and promote a culture that celebrates innovation. 

These are not virtual principles. The report offers precise analyses of the current situation and, above all, suggests possible remedies. The experts believe, for example, that the reason European companies fail to invest sufficiently in research and innovation is quite simply owing to the absence of a market that is favourable to the sale of new products and services. It should be possible to create such a market, if the means are provided in terms of harmonising regulations, stimulating demand through public procurement, putting into place a competitive system of intellectual property rights and promoting an innovation-based culture. They propose the appointment of an independent coordinator charged with orchestrating European action to relaunch R&D in the Member States.

They also call for major changes in implementation of the Community budget. In particular, they recommend trebling to 20% the proportion of the Structural Funds granted to research and innovation and that innovation should be an objective in all budgets administered by the Commission. Finally, the experts make a number of suggestions to halt the dramatic erosion of venture capital investments (€946 million in 2004 compared with €9.66 billion in 2000).

In terms of human resources, they favour sectoral mobility and estimate that, in the course of a year, 10% of the members of the research community in Europe should cross the borders between science, industry and government. 

(1) Esko Aho, former Prime Minister of Finland, Jozef Comu, former Chairman of Alcatel Telecom, Luke Georghiou (Manchester Business School) and Antoni Subirà (ISE – Barcelona).

Tseur project

Adriano Aguzzi, Professor at the Institute of Neuropathology at Zurich University Hospital (CH), is coordinator of the Tseur European project that is investigating neurodegenerative disorders resulting from prion disorders. He was interviewed by the Swiss journal Euresearch INFO, from which the following comments are taken.  

“Today, good research is global research. It is not judicious to compare national research and European research. The reference must always be international research.” 

"There is a certain bureaucracy associated with European research. But for the rest, internationalisation is nothing but fun! International contacts and mobility are among the elements that make the job of researcher attractive. As the years pass, I become increasingly convinced of the virtues of European research. When I started to participate in European projects, more than ten years ago, I believed that bureaucracy and the artificial grouping of laboratories served no purpose. The main reason I became involved was financial. We have now been working for several years on one of these projects. At first, each laboratory had its own timetable and the actors tended to compete rather than co-operate. Some laboratories were of high quality and others were pitiful. Over the years, the situation has changed and improved, especially in terms of bilateral co-operation. The actors have exchanged knowledge and young researchers have been able to work in several laboratories.” 

"Mobility is essential to the quality of research. Unfortunately, some laboratories present obstacles to this culture rather than encouraging it. For me, mobility is very important in my laboratory. The big problem for most countries lies in the fact that expatriate researchers tend not to return home or there are no national programmes that encourage mobility. Compared with other European countries, Switzerland has done a great deal and invested heavily in this field and it can be seen as a model in this respect.” 

Good rearing practices

Good rearing practices
Two European initiatives will make it possible to improve the selection and breeding of farm animals.

First off, a code of good practices has been drawn up in the framework of the Code-EFABAR. With European support of €300 000, this draws on the results of two previous projects, Farm Animal Breeding and Society (FABRE) and Sustainable European Farm Animal Breeding and   Reproduction (SEFABAR). Scientists, breeders, consumer associations, biotechnology experts, sociologists, economists and experts on ethical issues from a dozen countries contributed to these two multidisciplinary research projects. They pooled their expertise to find a consensus between the needs of breeding concerns and the expectations of society. On this basis, they then drew up acceptable scenarios for the ‘sustainable’ selection and reproduction of animals. 

The Code-EFABAR will be certified officially by an ad hoc body and will include a training element. The EU’s objective is for companies, and SMEs in particular, to adopt a code and obtain a certificate of conformity. The principles applied must enable them to achieve high levels of health and well-being for the animals, as well as safe, high quality foodstuffs.

At the same time, the FABER-TP European Technological Platform is seeking to bring together various actors – researchers, industry, consumer organisations, etc. – to draw up a scenario of how the sustainable selection and breeding of farm animals will develop in the medium to long term (15-20 years) and what research projects should be carried out with this in view. 

Research in this field has, to date, received funding of over €25 million under the Sixth Framework Programme. The fields of interest of funded projects include high technologies, such as genomics, that are likely to have a major impact on selection. 

Seventh Framework Programme

Judged insufficient by the European Parliament (EP), the financial allocation for the Seventh Framework Programme proposed by the Council of Ministers in December 2005 was finally scaled up (by an additional €300 million) within the context of the compromise arrived at between the EP and the Austrian Presidency of the Council in April 2006. At 2004 prices, it has now reached €48 billion euros between 2007 and 2013. At current prices, this effectively amounts to an increase of €54 billion. This budget is certainly lower than the 30% increase suggested in the Commission’s original proposal, but the augmented annual allocation is 60% higher than in FP6.

Once the Parliament and the Council give this new financial perspective their final blessing, the Commission will present a revised version of its FP7 proposal. Under the leadership of the Finnish Presidency, the updated proposal will have to be discussed with the Council and the Parliament in the second half of 2006.

The increase in the FP7’s annual budget will be progressive. It will begin with an annual budget of €5.17 billion in 2007 (at constant prices) and will reach €8.85 billion in 2013 (1), which translates as an increase of 75% in comparison with the current situation.

Today is the futurE

FP7 will commence at the beginning of next year. To mark its launch, a major forum entitled ‘Today is the futurE’ will be held in Brussels on 7 March 2007. This diverse event will bring together the highest authorities of the European Union. It will provide an opportunity for the research community, policy-makers, the public, including young people, and the media to exchange views. This event will double as a large and attractive public exhibition on European research, and it will stay in place until end of March at the Tour et Taxis, the prestigious industrial heritage site in Brussels.

(1) Not including the additional €300 million agreed in April 2006

Foundations of knowledge

Foundations of knowledge
Science, you may be surprised to learn, owes a great deal to foundations. Their particular role is often as little known as it is understood. In 2001, the European Science Foundation Centre (EFC) estimated that there were over 62 000 such foundations in the then 15 EU Member States. Today there are doubtless many more. Foundations depend neither on governments nor on companies. While their management boards, methods of management and sources of revenue vary, they share a single objective of promoting the ‘common good’ – whether in health, education, research, culture, social work, etc. Their relations with the public authorities, their legal and fiscal status and their operating conditions all vary considerably depending on the Member State.

A group of experts set up by the EU recently published the report Giving More for Research in Europe that advocates concentrating more on this particular form of private resource by encouraging more co-operation between the public authorities, research bodies and foundation managers and by providing a more appropriate environment in which the latter can operate. In particular, they recommend:  

  • actions to promote visibility, provide information and encourage contributions through targeted donation campaigns
  • improvements to the tax and regulatory environment (simplified systems, tax benefit schemes, etc.)
  • the creation of mechanisms to increase funds, such as the promotion of ‘philanthropic venture capital’ at European level and the use of public funds to create a new generation of foundations 
  • the promotion of a more conducive EU environment and the encouragement of a more transparent and responsible administrative management 
  • the creation of a European forum of research foundations, in particular to encourage the exchange of experiences and good practice  
The report’s conclusions were presented and discussed at a conference held in Brussels on 27 and 28 March.

The INSERM goes international

The INSERM (Institut de santé publique et de recherche médicale français), based in Paris, has just set up a second research team outside of France, at Glasgow University. They are based at the Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology, which is engaged in complementary research in the field of malaria. An initial experience of this kind is already up and running in Heidelberg.  

Intellectual property

The IPR Helpdesk, based at the University of Alicante and supported by the EU, is now operational. A help-line and well-documented website provide comprehensive information on intellectual property and patents. The Helpdesk is accessible in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Polish.

Virtual library

In November 2005, European culture ministers gave the green light to launch The European Digital Library. The aim is to bring together all the written knowledge in the world (books, magazines, journals, virtual and paper publications) on a website listing the treasures of 45 national libraries. A set of frequently asked questions explains the website’s vision and mission as well as its target audience. Visitors are invited to submit opinions and comments so that the library can respond even better to the expectations of its virtual readers.

  RTD info? Tell us what you think.

By answering just a few questions you can let us know what you think of RTD info and help   us to make it better. After the next landmark 50th issue – and ten years of existence – it is to be given a new look and fresh impetus.   

Simply go to the Research Directorate-General homepage, where you can click directly on the short electronic questionnaire designed for this purpose. 

We thank you in advance for your valuable participation.