The European Research Area and of the 6th Framework Programme: Support for implementation of public policies

Institute for Environment and Sustainability
21020 Ispra (VA), Italy

In the space of just over two years, the European Research Area (ERA) has become the reference framework for research policy issues in Europe. Proposed by the Commission in January 2000, this project was endorsed by the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 as a central component of the process of developing a knowledge-based economy and society in the EU to promote innovation, competitiveness and employment, sustainable economic growth and social cohesion. The conclusions of the June 2000 Feira European Council also referred to it, as do the conclusions of the November 2000 Nice European Council, which called for a progress report on its implementation for the Spring European Council in Stockholm.

The ERA is more necessary and urgent than ever:

  • The EU's major technological rivals are not resting on their laurels. On the contrary, they are stepping up their efforts. In the US, public spending on research grew by over 9% in 2001 in the context of a steady increase in industrial efforts over the last decade.
  • Following on from the breakthroughs in recent years, the prospects in life sciences and technologies are promising. At the dawn of the 21st century, the immediate challenge facing science is to make use of the advances achieved in the analysis of the human genome and other living organisms, heralding the advent of the post-genomic era with all its spin-offs in terms of public health and the competitiveness of the biotechnology industries.
  • Information and communication sciences and technologies are playing a growing role in strengthening the competitiveness of the European economy as a whole, improving living conditions in Europe and preserving the European model of society.
  • As highlighted in particular by the BSE crisis and other recent developments in the area of food safety, the EU is now facing, and will in all probability have to face in the future more and more, problems significantly affecting the economy, society and citizens for which science holds the key to a large extent.
  • Sustainable development, in all its various dimensions, has become a major political objective on the EU's agenda. Implementing it will generate constantly growing needs for specific research in many areas and on themes often necessitating recourse to interdisciplinary approaches.

Among a number of means to implement the objectives of the ERA, the EU has also its financial instrument for promoting research and European cooperation in this area, namely the framework programme.

The relationship between the EU's research efforts and the national research efforts is changing. Implementing the framework programme will require a genuine partnership between the EU and its Member States and with other European scientific cooperation organizations.

The new framework programme will be based on the following main principles:

  • concentrating on a selected number of priority research areas in which EU action can add the greatest possible value;
  • defining the various activities in such a way as to enable them to exert a more structuring effect on the research activities conducted in Europe thanks to a stronger link with national, regional and other European initiatives;
  • simplifying and streamlining the implementation arrangements, on the basis of the intervention methods defined and the decentralised management procedures envisaged.

In the framework programme as a whole, and especially in research activities specifically geared to helping implement Community policies, a special effort will be made to maximize the dissemination of results and to express them in terms that are readily understandable to decision-makers, so as to help them implement public policies.

The Framework Directive on Water can be taken as an example of this type of support. On the 23rd October 2000 the European Parliament and Council passed a Directive establishing a framework of community action in the field of water policy (Water Framework Directive- FWD). The Water Framework Directive (FWD) raises major challenges; these include an extremely demanding timetable, in particular in the nine preparatory years; the complexity of the text and the diversity of possible solutions to scientific, technical and practical questions.

A further problem is that a common understanding and methodologies for the application of the different areas of the FWD do not necessarily exist. Member States have, historically, developed approaches to monitoring, impact assessment, economic analysis etc. that will need to be compared in order to be certain that they provide comparable level of results over the range of ecosystems covered in the European Union. Accession Countries will also have to start to adjust their environmental legislation to be compatible with EU Directives and standards. The Framework Water Directive imposes a series of deadlines for the reporting by Member States to the European Commission.

The implementation of this Directive will have very considerable long-term implications on information needs and research objectives covering all European river basin and coastal zones. An effective and coherent water policy must take account of the vulnerability of all surface and ground waters, including aquatic ecosystems located near the coast and estuaries or in gulfs or related closed seas, as their equilibrium is strongly influenced by the quality of inland waters flowing into them.