ERCIM News No.35 - October 1998

The European Institutions - Commission Council and Parliament - are working out the final rounds of negotiation for the Fifth Research Framework Programme (FFP) financing. This process, which will set the scene for EU investment in R&D from 1999 to 2002, overshadows the reflection on the detailed programmes which are also under the scrutiny of the European Parliament.

As the Rapporteur for the chapter of the FFP dedicated to the Technologies of the Information Society, I anticipate two ‘hot spots’ in the incoming debate, which I want to share with the Readers of ERCIM News:
• the allocation of funds between the key actions with an ‘application orientation’ (Services for the citizens - Electronic Commerce - Multimedia Content and Tools) and the key actions with a stronger ‘basic research’ flavour (Essential Technologies and Infrastructures - Future and Emerging Technologies)
• the financial support of the European Union for the research network infrastructure and research networking.

With regard to the detailed allocation of resources for R&D in the different fields of Information and Communication Technologies, my proposal to the Research Committee of the European Parliament aims at shifting a few percentage points from ‘Electronic Commerce’ to ‘Services for the Citizens’ and ‘Essential Technologies and Infrastructures’. This is because I believe that Electronic Commerce requires more legislative work (to better define the legal environment) than pre-competitive R&D while the action ‘Services for the citizens’ needs a strong level of public intervention and coordination.

I have also shifted the funding level slightly from ‘Future and Emerging Technologies” to ‘Essential Technologies and Infrastructures’ because I believe that we need a stronger focus on technologies leading rapidly to viable hardware and software platforms and to affordable products in a very rapidly changing environment.

The objective of the FFP Programme to support broadband interconnection of the National Research and Education networks seems very good to me: it is not just a matter of imitating the US National Science Foundation and provide the European Research community with a similar ‘state of the art’ infrastructure; to me it’s a matter of creating and maintaining the ‘high standards environment’ where the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can be used and tested by the most demanding and creative users. After all Internet has become a commercial environment only after coming of age in the high-tech industry/academia environment. I believe that a major matter for debate will be the question “what EU programme pays for the research network infrastructure?”

In the present Commission’s proposal the goal is to upgrade the research network backbone up to 1 Gbit/s bandwidth in 2002 and 3% of the ICT programme (roughly 1,200 Mecu over four years) is earmarked for the project. There is already evidence that this level of funding will likely not suffice. If this scenario were to materialise, I am putting forward the case for the general Fifth Framework Programme to pick up the rest of the bill with a ‘horizontal’ budget line, considering that this network facility is of great value to the whole research community. The incoming days will tell us what lines Parliament and Council will eventually adopt.

Franco Malerba

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