European Union

A new framework for European research

With a modified structure and simplified participation procedures, the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-2013) marks a change and brings a new dimension to European research. With a greatly increased budget (from € 17.5 billion to € 53.2 billion), and with a portion devoted to pure and exploratory research, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) occupies a unique place in European research and on the global stage. A quick appraisal follows.

Treble the investment

If you observe the history of framework programme budgets, you will notice that the budget for the FP7 is not only three times higher than that for the last framework programme, but also provides for a constant increase in financing, which will rise to €10.5 billion in 2013 (see Graph 1). Too high for some, not enough for others the budget has been the subject of debate amongst European political decision-makers but it is still higher than many expected.

In addition, the Seventh Framework Programme follows on directly from the Lisbon Strategy adopted in 2000 which was aimed at boosting growth and employment by means of three major pillars: economic competitiveness, social integration and environmental protection. Faced with somewhat stagnant growth and insufficient creation of employment, the assessment of this strategy remains mixed. Besides which, its objectives have often remained vague for numerous professionals, academics and company directors.

To relaunch the Lisbon Strategy, the Union took new measures in March 2002, within the scope of the Barcelona objectives. The idea is to back its greatest assets – innovation and cutting-edge technology – and to increase investment in R&D activities to 3% of GDP by 2010. If you consider the figures for 2003 (see Graph 2), you will note that, at that time, the budget for R&D represented 1.93% of the GDP in the EU against 2.59% in the United States of America and 3.15% in Japan (even if some Member States, such as Finland and Sweden, are above the Barcelona objective).

New structure, different approach

To be more capable of taking up this challenge, the Seventh Framework Programme has a new structure, becoming both bigger and more integrated. It is based on four specific major programmes: ‘Cooperation’, ‘People’, ‘Ideas’ and ‘Capacities’, and a fifth, ‘Euratom’, on nuclear research.

Whereas the Sixth Framework Programme was aimed at reinforcing the technological basis of industry by contributing to the formation of the European Research Area (ERA), the seventh is heavily focused on the major research subjects, particularly within the ‘Cooperation’ section. The programme is, therefore, more flexible and able to meet the requirements of industry. Across new areas of knowledge there are also various partners within the same area who will be able to develop their research potential.

With regard to financing, the Seventh Framework Programme prioritises the ‘Cooperation’ programme, which is divided into ten main themes (see below). If Europe wants to catch up with its competitors, it has to become an attractive global centre for research and innovation and has to provide its researchers with challenges of an international scale in order to better encourage them to excel in their planned careers. They can now contact a helpdesk for answers to their questions.

In addition to these structural changes, it is necessary to emphasise the appearance of two new elements aimed at simplifying everything related to the support and financing of the projects.

Following suggestions by the researchers, a specific ‘Ideas’ programme is entirely dedicated to frontier research, is considered an important driver for growth. A new structure, the European Research Council (ERC) has been created under the responsibility of the Commission. The ERC represents the first pan-European agency for the financing of research and supports the most ambitious and innovative fundamental research projects. Another innovation is the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI) mainly concerned with areas of research which require considerable investments to ensure long-term success (see next page). The JTIs rationalise the procedures for participation and financing by combining private investment with public financing. Moreover, for the sake of providing continuity with the Sixth Framework Programme, the Seventh Framework Programme reinforces activities which have proven to be successful. This is the case with the ERA-NET system, which is aimed at bringing together European, national and regional research programmes and Marie Curie initiatives which are aimed at forming international networks and increasing researcher mobility.

Added value for researchers and SMEs

To deal with the concerns of numerous researchers (in a way victims of their success), who had participated in previous framework programmes, the Commission carried out some fundamental work to streamline the participation procedures. From now on, the application procedures will be simplified and preliminary checks will be reduced. The researchers will have greater flexibility, particularly during health crises (bird flu, infectious diseases, etc.).

There will be more autonomy, not only for researchers but also for SMEs which are called on to become more involved in R&D. Representing 99% of the European industrial fabric and creating 80% of jobs in certain sectors, such as textiles, SMEs are an essential part of the European economy. Within the context of the Seventh Framework Programme, they can profit from research projects and allocate 15% of the annual budget to R&D as well as higher rates of finance rising to 75%. In addition, of the ten specific themes in the ‘Cooperation’ programme, emphasis is placed on information and communication technologies (ICT) which, with increased use, promise amongst other things faster product development, a reduction in costs and overheads and more reliable and effective dealings with customers and suppliers.

A higher budget for the better integration of researchers and industrialists in the major challenges facing the Union is what is proposed by the Seventh Framework Programme. In 2009, an initial report will be drawn up to evaluate the objectives to be adjusted or pursued.


Read More

Research facilities: How do you obtain 30 billion from just one?

On the basis of an ingenious finance system, the Seventh Framework Programme plans to generate an additional €30 billion within 5 years through the leverage of research facilities (RSFF, Risk Sharing Finance Facility). The RSFF is a new financial tool proposed by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Commission to encourage the banking sector to take more risks in financing technological enterprises. A total of €1 billion is provided by the Community budget (provisioning) to which €1 billion is added by the EIB, i.e. a total amount of €2 billion per year, allowing a volume of €10 billion in loans over 5 years. Since the EIB finances an average of one third of the total cost of the project, an additional €20 billion will be provided by private finance. Therefore, in total, this will make €30 billion which should be mobilised for R&D.

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