ERCIM News No.29 - April 1997

Long Term Research in ESPRIT in the Perspective of the 5th Framework Programme

by Jean-Michel Chassériaux

ERCIM has recently been involved in the five-year assessment of ESPRIT, carried out by a panel of experts led by Roberto Carneiro, former Portuguese Minister for Education. The report of this panel was part of the raw materials used by a group of independent experts chaired by Viscount Etienne Davignon, former Commissioner for research and industry and one of the founding fathers of ESPRIT, for the five-year assessment of the 5th Framework Programme.

The Davignon report calls for a leap forward as qualitative and fundamental as the creation of the Framework programme itself. Among other recommendations, it advocates for a merging of the three Information Technology programmes ESPRIT, ACTS and Telematics Applications. The report also suggests that the Commission commits only a part of the budget at the outset allowing adjustments to be made in the subsequent years. This was one of the recommendations of ERCIM views on IT in Europe, the preparation of the 5th FP and the revision of the Maastricht treaty, published in July 1996.

It also notes that the short terms needs of the market have come to dominate the implementation of the Framework Programme and that achieving the right balance between fundamental and applied research should be the responsibility of the specific programmes. Has a proper balance been reached in the recent past between short term and long term objectives and will this recommendation be sufficient for making sure that such a balance will be achieved in the future? At a time when the preparation of the 5th Framework Programme is getting momentum, the question remains far from being solved, in particular in the context of the emerging information society.

The information society in a European perspective

Europe has been lagging with respect to the rest of the world in its way towards the information society (see table). European industry is both weak in terms of hardware and software products and stagnant in terms of computer services. Its competitiveness has diminished and the trade deficit is now of one third of the production.

Table 1: IT markets in 1995
Geographical zone Share of the world IT market Growth rate 1994/95 (%)
America 46,7 12,2
Western Europe 27,9 7,3
Asia-Pacific 22,8 11,9
Rest of the world 2,7 13,1

Table 2: Europe lags behind the USA in the number of PCs in business and IT investment per employee.
PC per 100 office workers Investment per employee (ECU)
USA 104 681
EU 72 335
Japan 24 563

In countries which are still expecting an economic recovery, people are deeply concerned with such a dramatic change. The question about employment, exclusion, culture, etc, are more worrying and the low level of investment has direct consequences on the adoption of the new technologies.

There is no doubt that the only way forward lies in a reconciliation between the expectations of the citizens and the future prospects of the information society taking into account the specificity of the European culture.

The vision of a European information society, able to match traditional humanistic and social values, is obviously a long term objective. However, it is essential to satisfy the expectations of the citizens for an improved quality of life, economic growth and employment in the short-term. Even if R&D can not deliver an immediate answer to these problems, there is an increased demand for researchers to work more on the extrapolation of proven solutions to large-scale operations rather than looking for really new ones.

A lot can be done with the available technology on the path towards the information society but many problems still remain and although, in the short term significant economic gains can be obtained by the direct use of technology developed elsewhere, in the long term, the exchange of research results will become indispensable for the acquisition of new knowledge and it will therefore be necessary to produce one's own results.

Long term research

ESPRIT evolved in its latest phase from a technology-push and pre-competitive research programme to a technology-take and a market-driven approach and a full set of accompanying measures has been designed in order to ensure a good diffusion of the R&D results. Nowadays, the budget allocated to the accompanying measures is half of that of the R&D projects and their number is twice as much.

Long Term Research (LTR) is one of the domains of ESPRIT 4. Its objectives are to ensure that, at any time, the potential for the next wave of innovation is main-tained. However the main users of this domain ie universities and research institutes are often complaining about:

As one of the key objectives for the fifth FP would be to provide an effective contribution to the creation of a European Information Society, more consideration should be give to long term research. The major trends in society should be better understood. Some embryonic work has already been done under the umbrella of the socio-economic research programme. It could be expanded.

The Information Society Forum set up by the European Commission in February 1995 has played a useful role in drawing the attention to the major issues which Europe will have to face in the near future. This source of idea should be reflected in the management of the future ICT programme by setting up an ESPRIT Foresight Board, made of experts coming from various horizons, in charge of translating major social issues of the European Information Society into technologies and markets for tomorrow. It should be involved in the preparation of the rolling work programme.

As the future ICT programme will be more focused, the LTR domain has to cover all the fields of information and communications technologies. It should encourage the creativity of individuals and the development of an entrepreneurial state of mind amongst the researchers while maintaining its very high standard of scientific excellence.

A distinction should be made between:

These activities could be grouped under the generic name of future and emerging technologies and their share in the total budget of the future ICT programme should be altogether of the order of 15%.

Setting up a proper balance between natural preference for the short term and long term development of economies which above all requires understanding of the systems and knowledge of the technical tools is of highest importance. As stressed in the preliminary guidelines for the fifth framework programme: Europe needs research and research needs Europe, and an increased synergy between the different players in the information society: researchers, industry, service providers and users is necessary.

Please contact:
Jean-Michel Chassériaux - INRIA
Tel: +33 1 3963 5303

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