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A new direction for the European Union?

Britain and EU migrants

The EU and Research and Development

Summary

2007 sees the launch of the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7). Covering the period 2007-2013, FP7 has a budget of €53.2 billion (£36.23 billion) – a 63 per cent increase on the FP6 programme that preceded it. Since the first framework programme in 1984, research and technological development has been funded by the EU with the emphasis on cross-border initiatives. The need to meet the Lisbon agenda targets for growth and jobs has led the EU to place far greater emphasis on research and development. The UK has benefited significantly from these programmes (see below).

Background

The Framework Programme lays down broad heads of expenditure and the main programmes to be financed under each of them for the next seven years.

From the first programmes, which were heavily influenced by the aftermath of the energy crisis of the 1970s, the emphasis has been on programmes that attempt to pull together efforts of large and small firms, industry, academia and government research institutes.

The programmes share the following characteristics:

· bottom-up – priorities emerge from a wide process of consultation with industry, academic and government experts;

· shared cost – EU funding has to be matched by a minimum of equivalent sums from industry and/or national governments;

· subject to open competition – once research priorities have been identified, it is up to consortia of individual firms and research groups to put in proposals; these are then peer reviewed and ranked in order, with funds allocated to those judged to be the best;

· collaborative – some funding programmes (such as the Co-operation programme in FP7) have to involve groups from at least two Member States and ideally also academic and corporate partners.

The Development of EU R & D

The first programme, ESPRIT, was followed by a series of programmes along similar lines, RACE (Research in Advanced Telecommunications for Europe), BRITE (Basic Research in Industrial Technologies for Europe), BAP (Biotechnology Action Programme) and many more. Each has now run through several generations of programme and it is possible to track the main areas of interest. While ICT and telecoms grew fast in the 1980s, rapidly eclipsing the share going to energy, the life sciences and the environment were the main growth areas of the 1990s.

Another growth area has been training and mobility which facilitates travel and training for young researchers, giving them the opportunity to gain experience of working in leading laboratories in other member states. The Marie Curie fellowships, awarded by this programme, are highly prized and British universities have been much favoured as host institutions.

The fact that Europe was lagging in key areas of competitiveness, led to a renewed emphasis on the importance of science and innovation. In 2000 the EU adopted a target of achieving three per cent of GDP spent on R & D by 2010 – the actual figure in 2005 was 1.8 per cent. Business funds a lower percentage of R & D in the EU countries (55%) compared to the USA (64%) or Japan (75%). The European Council agreed that measures to improve competitiveness would be a priority in the budget period of 2007-13. From this flowed the decision to create a far larger budget for EU-funded R & D.

FP7 & the European Research Council

The main programmes of FP7 and their funding for 2007-13 are:

Co-operation – fostering collaboration between industry and academia in ten specific areas, including health, transport, environment and space (€32/£21.8 billion);

Ideas – funding basic research on a competitive basis through the European Research Council (€7.4/£5.04 billion);

People – supporting the mobility and career development of researchers in Europe (€4.7/£3.2 billion);

Capacities – described as "building the knowledge economy" the capacities programme will strengthen research capacity and includes research for the benefit of SMEs (€4.2/£2.9 billion);

Nuclear research – there will continue to be work into both fission and fusion (€2.7/£1.8 billion); the main European centre for fusion research is at Culham in Oxfordshire and is a joint UK/Euratom project.

The launch of the European Research Council as part of FP7 will provide the first pan-European agency for funding basic research in innovative areas. It will provide funding on a peer review basis and research proposals will not have to be cross-border.

The European Institute of Technology & Innovation Policy

The idea of establishing a European Institute of Technology (EIT) was proposed by the Commission in 2005 in order to try to bridge the innovation gap between the EU and its competitors. The Commission argued that there was a need for a body that can achieve the kind of critical mass necessary for some innovation projects. The December 2006 European Council urged the Council and the Parliament to move "swiftly" to adopt the necessary legislation in 2007. But there are serious doubts about whether the EIT, at least in its original form, would achieve its proclaimed objectives.

Other aspects of innovation – like the EIT – are supported out of different funding programmes from FP7, notably those relating to competitiveness and innovation and to regional policy.

Britain and the Framework Programmes

The UK has been a substantial recipient of funds under successive Framework Programmes; in the Sixth Programme, for example, the UK was the second highest recipient of funds for projects related to manufacturing. During FP5, the UK received substantially more resources from the programme than the cost of our contribution towards it. The UK also plays a major role in EU-funded fusion research.

May 2007

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