The European Commission has unveiled its plans for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which propose a duration of seven years (2007 to 2013), a budget of 73 billion euro and a structure based on four specific programmes: Cooperation, Ideas, People and Capacities.
Within these four programmes, Cooperation refers to collaborative transnational research activities; Ideas covers basic research implemented through a European Research Council (ERC); People includes Marie Curie actions and other initiatives; while Capacities encompasses support to research infrastructures, regions of knowledge and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
The proposals stress that collaborative research, under the Cooperation heading, will constitute the bulk and core of EU research funding. Indeed, nearly 45 billion euro of the total 73 billion euro budget would be channelled towards this priority under the Commission’s plans. As well as collaborative research, the Cooperation programme will cover Joint Technology Initiatives, coordination of national research programmes and international cooperation.
Nine thematic areas for collaborative research are specified: health; food, agriculture and biotechnology; information and communication technologies (ICT); nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies; energy; environment (including climate change); transport (including aeronautics); socio-economic sciences and the humanities; and security and space research.
As with FP6, the largest of these thematic areas in budgetary terms is ICT, with a proposed allocation of 12.7 billion euro over seven years. Next comes health with nearly 8.4 billion euro, followed by nanosciences with just under 5 billion euro. The newly created security and space research priority is set to be the fifth largest, with a budget of 4 billion euro, while the other new thematic area, socio-economic sciences and the humanities, will be the smallest with a budget of 797 million euro.
As for the content of each priority, the proposals explain that at this stage the themes are broadly defined so that they can adapt to needs and opportunities as they arise during the lifetime of FP7. Under the ICT theme, for example, activities include the integration of technologies into personal environments and robotic systems, ICT for health, mobility and inclusion, and future and emerging technologies.
As expected, under the Ideas programme, the Commission foresees the funding of individual projects suggested by researchers on subjects of their choice. The programme will be implemented by an ERC independently of the rest of the Framework Programme, with a proposed budget over seven years of 12 billion euro.
It is proposed that the People programme will cover the initial training of researchers (through the Marie Curies networks), life-long training and career development, industry-academia pathways and partnerships, and international activities including incoming and outgoing fellowships and the exchange of researchers. The proposed budget allocation is the lowest of the four specific programmes at 7.2 billion euro.
The Capacities programme, meanwhile, will target the optimal use and development of research infrastructures, strengthening the innovative capacities of SMEs, the development of regional research clusters, improving the research potential in EU convergence regions, and improving the integration of science and society. To achieve these aims, the Commission proposes a budget of 7.5 billion euro.
Compared with its predecessor FP6, proposals for the new programme place far less emphasis on the specific funding mechanisms that will be used. For transnational projects launched under the nine thematic areas, three main instruments are identified: collaborative projects, which will range form small-scale, focused research actions to large integrating projects, Networks of Excellence bringing together a number of institutions in a given field, and coordination and support actions, such as networking, exchanges and access to research infrastructures.
Other funding mechanisms that could be applied in response to calls for proposals include individual projects – primarily for basic research under the activities of the ERC – Marie Curie actions, and research for the benefit of specific groups (in particular SMEs). Mechanisms to support multi-financed, large-scale initiatives on the basis of decisions by the Council and Parliament, meanwhile, include Article 169 of the Treaty, Joint Technology Initiatives, and the development of infrastructures through Article 171 of the Treaty.
Away from the four specific programmes, the proposals state that all research activities undertaken in FP7 must be carried out in compliance with fundamental ethical principles. They also provide for an interim evaluation of FP7 and its specific programmes by no later than 2010, with a full external evaluation of the programme’s rationale, implementation and achievements coming two years after its completion.
In the consultation process that preceded publication of the proposals, a number Member States called for the Joint Research Centre to compete on an equal footing with national institutions to provide scientific support to EU policy making. According to the final proposals, however, the JRC’s independence of national or private interests and its technical expertise enable it to best build consensus between stakeholders and policy markers, especially at EU level.
The non-nuclear activities of the JRC, therefore, will target prosperity in a knowledge-intensive society, solidarity and responsible management of resources, security and freedom, and Europe’s role as a world partner. In addition, the plans state that: The JRC will actively pursue promoting the integration of New Member States and Candidate Countries in its activities to the level currently enjoyed by the EU15.
Finally, the proposals reveal that: In order to strengthen the diffusion and use of the output of EU research, the dissemination of knowledge and transfer of results, including to policy makers, will be supported in all thematic areas, including through the funding of networking initiatives, seminars and events, assistance by external experts and information and electronic services, in particular CORDIS. For further information, please consult the following web