ERCIM News No.26 - July 1996

ERCIM Views on the 5th Framework Programme

by Jean-Michel Chassériaux

In its recent strategic report 'ERCIM views on Information Technology in Europe ­p; the preparation of the 5th Framework Programme and the Revision of the Maastricht Treaty', ERCIM proposes several guiding principles for the 5th Framework Programme.

Today, European industry in the information technology sector seems both weak in terms of hardware and software products and stagnant in terms of computer services. European research is of high quality but it remains insufficient in quantity as witnessed, for example by the stagnation in overall R&D expenditures, its weakness in human potential and a negative specialization index for scientific publications and patents in the IT sector. There exists, however, significant reserves of creativity. As an example, the 13 European research institutes which are members of ERCIM have given raise to over 150 start-up ventures over the last ten years (see ERCIM News 24). But European high-tech companies still face more difficulties than their American competitors.

At the national level, the economic difficulties experienced in European countries have affected public R&D budgets which have most often stagnated or decreased. Public research organisations have been encouraged by their governments to increase their own revenues and to orient their research towards issues of direct interest to industry. The multiplication of short-term contracts makes the definition of coherent and ambitious scientific policy more difficult.

At the European Community level, the R&D activities have been considerably reinforced since the beginning of the 1980s. Their annual budget tripled between 1984 and 1994 to nearly 2500 MECU which constitutes approximately 3% of the R&D expenditures of the Member States. This amount may seem modest but consists of essentially incentive funding (up to 50%) for trans-national projects. At the same time, the content of the Framework Programme (FP) has also considerably evolved. Initially it was aimed at the reinforcement of the scientific and technological bases of European industry and focused especially in the fields of energy and IT. But increasingly its priorities have turned towards the satisfaction of social demand (the environment, medicine, socio-economic research, etc.). More precisely, programmes directly related to industrial competitiveness (IT, industrial technologies, energy) have seen their share fall from 80% in the 2nd FP to 62% in the 4th FP. The projects selected are closer and closer to market demands, and vertical partnerships associating technology users and providers are favoured. Information technologies' share of FP funding has decreased regularly since 1987 from 42% in the 2nd FP to 28% in the 4th FP. And within the corresponding programmes, the place of long-term research has been gradually reduced.

The extension of the objectives of FP has been accompanied by a certain dispersion of the available funds among the different Commission Directorates, some of whose areas of competence may overlap. Those Directorates are thus compelled to make significant efforts to co-ordinate not only among themselves but also with other policy-making Directorates.

Nowadays, it does not seem that long-term planning is sufficiently addressed, either at the national or Community level. One commonly admitted opinion would suggest that by virtue of the principle of subsidiarity, the financing of long-term research should be primarily assured by the Member States. In fact, a rigorous application of this principle would lead rather to the opposite conclusion:
Long-term research satisfies without difficulty the basic requirements of the Community's R&D policy which are transnationality and non distortion of competition. In particular, the added value of European networks of researchers has been amply demonstrated. By contrast, the Community's increasingly market-oriented R&D policy runs into difficulties which hinder its viability:
Thus, it is in no way obvious that, for equivalent means, supporting close to the market R&D and demonstration projects can better be undertaken at Community rather than at Member State level. Some of the orientations on which the Community's R&D policy has been founded during the past few years have to be reconsidered. The relationship between research and industry and the satisfaction of social demand are at the heart of the problem. The first point concerns both Title XIII (Industry) and Title XV (Research and Technological Development) of the Maastricht Treaty. The possibility offered by Title XIII have not been much used up till now and, over time, the FP which is covered by Title XV of the Treaty has become the principal instrument of industrial policy.

The preparation of the 5th FP could be the occasion the get closer to the spirit of the Treaty in order to fully implement its dispositions. In this regard, certain general orientations can already be sketched:
Please contact:
Jean-Michel Chassériaux - ERCIM Manager
Tel: +33 1 3963 5303

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