Norwegian contributions to the Commission's shaping of the 6th Framework Programme for Research (FP6), in the light of the Commission's Communication "Making a Reality of the European Research Area: Guidelines for EU Research Activities (2002-2006)" (COM

Mr. Phillippe BUSQUIN
Member of The European Commission
European Commission,
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels

Our ref

2000/101 øjb


18 December 2000

Norwegian contributions to the Commission’s shaping of the 6 th Framework Programme for Research (FP6), in the light of the Commission’s Communication "Making a Reality of the European Research Area: Guidelines for EU Research Activities (2002-2006)" (COM (2000) 612 final).

Dear Commissioner,

In May this year Norway submitted her comments to the first ERA Communication, adopted 18 January 2000. We wish now to offer contributions to the Commission’s shaping of the 6 th> Framework Programme, in the light of our former ERA comments, and particularly in view of the latest ERA Communication, adopted 4 October this year. During Spring 2001 Norway will offer additional comments, based on the Commission’s own proposal for the 6 th> Framework Programme, which we understand will be presented in late February or early March next year.

Norway welcomes the Commission’s ERA initiative, particularly because the drawn-up guidelines point the way to a stronger, more consolidated European science community, inter alia enhancing Europe’s transition into a more fully-fledged knowledge driven society. To this end, the ERA guidelines are important insofar that they encourage a greater degree of voluntary research co-operation between European countries, in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity. Norway adheres to the ERA guidelines’ emphasis on stimulating the gradual opening up of national research programmes, coupled with closer networking between complementary European centres of excellence. Norway also subscribes to the ERA guidelines’ strong focus on the need to enhance intra-European mobility of researchers, and the need to strengthen Europe’s overall knowledge-based competitive strength.

Challenges for Europe in shaping FP6

The shaping and subsequent structure and contents of FP6 will constitute a very important element in the realisation of ERA. Among the critical challenges for Europe that FP6 needs to relate to, include

  • the impact of the digital economy and the need for innovation,
  • the further promotion of sustainable development,
  • the growing number of elderly,
  • the need for improved quality of life for Europe’s citizens, and
  • central factors and processes pertaining to energy, transport, and environment.

Advances in science and technology represent a necessary basis for sound policy choices. In order to cope with major societal, environmental and economic challenges, Europe is in urgent need of improving its performance in key areas of science and technology.

Those elements of ERA to be implemented through FP6 will be important instruments in stimulating concerted research to help resolve central societal challenges facing Europe in the coming years.

Structure and organisation of FP6

The approach adopted for FP5 in focusing on problem orientation and emphasising the relevance for society should be further developed, but at the same time there should be more place for long-term, generic research, mobility, and networking of excellence. There is a need for taking aboard new policy challenges, while at the same time ensuring some degree of continuity and predictability for the European scientific community.

Norway supports the model introduced by the FP5, with few large thematic programmes and a limited number of horizontal programmes.

The concept of key actions should be further developed as mechanisms for dealing with innovation challenges and social issues of European relevance. A reduction in the number of key actions is recommended in order to achieve better overview and coherence.

The traditional dichotomy between applied and long-term basic research is in many ways artificial and outdated. More often than not the two are inextricably linked and interdependent, i.e. basic or generic research is the foundation of applied research. With regard to the Framework Programme, several evaluators have observed that this balance could be improved by way of putting more emphasis on long-term, targeted basic research and generic activities. In some areas there is a need to increase the size of projects and projects of clusters. The size of projects must not however become an objective in and of itself, as smaller projects may be more cost-efficient. This may especially be the case in more policy-oriented research requiring more flexibility in approach.

In order to meet global competition Europe will have to consolidate and further develop a strong basic, but focused research platform to serve fundamental needs in key societal and industrial sectors. Thus, the next framework programme should focus even more on long-term, generic research, both within the thematic programmes, and also through the exploitation of European infrastructures the identification or the creation and operation of centres or networks of excellence.

While encouraging larger and more risky programmes of longer duration, due attention must be paid to how such a re-orientation could exert a potentially negative impact with regard to attracting the participation of various research institutions, including SMEs. There is also an obvious need for further simplification of application procedures, in order to facilitate high-level and broad participation in the next framework programme from potential partners with limited resources.

Norway appreciates the Commission's emphasis on promoting European centres and networks of excellence and enhancing the utilisation of European research infrastructures. Dynamic networking between compatible centres of excellence across national borders is becoming increasingly important both in a European and in a broader international perspective. Identification of centres of excellence will make these more visible and, hence, increase industry’s use of such centres, and also help recruit talented researchers whether from Europe or elsewhere.

Close, target-oriented co-operation between centres of excellence will contribute to higher-quality research, pooling resources in more efficient ways. A system for co-operation between centres of excellence should be further developed and implemented within the context of the next Framework Programme. Norway agrees that enhanced co-operation between centres of excellence will be important elements for the realisation of FP6 and the ERA. Norway is fully prepared to be included in the process of selection and support of centres of excellence, particularly through the usage of broadband communication networks and further opening of national programmes.

Thematic contents

At this stage our views are general and focus on the thematic contents of the next framework programme. Our thematic proposals are guided by a general concern for what we see as principal challenges for Europe as a whole, and how we believe Norway can best contribute based on the country’s own areas of scientific and technological excellence.

Norway sees a clear need for Europe to put more concerted emphasis on sustainable utilisation and management of marine resources. We are faced with a global situation characterised by an increasing shortage of food. Particularly in the light of recent chains of events regarding food-safety, marine food-products will be in increasing demand by European consumers. A significant proportion of protein must in the future originate from the sea, in particular from fish and shell farming. Increased activity at sea and within the coastal zone will require new links between (coastal) regional communities, policy makers and researchers. The precautionary principle should be taken into account as marine technologies are further developed. In focusing on the marine sector a number of other technologies will have to be further looked into. These include particularly ICT, biotechnology, new materials, and production technologies, thus addressing other sectors of activity, such as transport, rural and coastal development, and food industry. Necessary European advances in this vital field would benefit from stronger and more integrated research investments under FP6.

The "biotechnology revolution" will have important effects involving almost all fields of research, with applications across wide areas, such as the marine sector, health and environment. New knowledge should be applied in compliance with ethical values and serve to increase the safety of consumers while avoiding harmful effects on the environment.

Europe faces major challenges in the large sector of health and medicine, necessitating concerted European action. Health is fundamental to our welfare and quality of life. To improve the over-all health-service, new and extended knowledge is a prerequisite for innovative reforms, prophylactic efforts as well as new kinds of treatment. A substantial increase in the number of older people and decreasing fertility rates have dramatic impacts on the age distribution of the European population and consequently on the profile of peoples' illnesses.

Strengthening clinical research is critical to assure the quality of the treatment being offered. Clinical tests are dependent on substantial resources where concerted European actions will guarantee better projects and a shortening of time before patients can benefit from new methods of treatment. The impact of environmental factors is another domain where European co-operation will contribute significantly in finding causal links.

Malaria, tuberculoses, aids and other infectious diseases represent global challenges where stepped-up international research is needed. New developments in cellular biology and immunology seem promising and vaccines may be developed. This will help to meet critical needs voiced by numerous developing countries.

ICT has been an important part of the EU's framework programmes. Taking into consideration the generic character of ICT and its over-all impact on society as a whole, emphasis should be on the utilisation of the technologies. The concept of eEurope should be supported by FP6 research activities. The research programmes should contribute to the development of industry and services as well as the public sector and the public in general. There is a need for better insights into the interplay between ICT and other societal and cultural aspects. Effective and efficient applications of ICT should apply across all activities and all research programmes in the next FP6.

Furthermore, questions related to global climate change will have to be addressed. Important issues such as both arctic and marine research related to global climate change, seem not sufficiently covered within FP5.

The efforts in developing new sustainable energy in Europe are paying off. In this respect however, Europe is still in need of a continuous focus on advanced technologies for rational use of energy and renewable energy sources. Moreover, Norway sees the need for further research on Europe's most important energy carrier for many years to come, namely oil and gas. Europe needs to reduce its current dependency on energy from less stable areas of the world. We wish in particular to emphasise that the need for natural gas in Europe will increase, as gas is cleaner, more affordable and has higher efficencies than other fossil fuels. This must also be viewed in the context of many outdated European nuclear reactors being closed down in the coming years.

There is also a need for continuous research efforts within the context of the framework programme in order to increase the efficiency in exploitation, production, and reducing emissions.

In the area of transportation, European effort should be continued in order to reduce harmful emissions and develop more energy efficient and environmentally friendly transport systems. Both long distances transports, such as sea transport, and short distance transport, should be given increased attention.

The relationship between science, society and the citizen ought to be given increased attention in FP6. Social sciences should be better integrated across a larger number of research activities.

Horizontal issues

We are pleased to note recent signals from the Commission that increased attention to the mobility of researchers will be an essential element in the future European Research Area. In our view efforts to increase mobility should be further strengthened in the next Framework Programme by way of more flexible and more comprehensive grant and mobility schemes. It will be important to link the various grant- and mobility schemes more closely to established and prospective new instruments for research co-operation, such as networks of centres of excellence. In addition, grant-periods of varying lengths should be introduced. More flexible schemes, making it possible to switch between a working destination abroad and at home, will presumably also make it easier for two-career families in general, and women in particular, to add a European dimension to their careers. -- There is also a need to further promote attractive mobility schemes between industry and academy, taking the initiatives under FP5 further.

Scientific problems are increasingly of an international character and necessitate international co-operation in order for them to be tackled effectively, e.g. the fight against major illnesses – as stated above. We support the mechanisms for international co-operation established within the Framework Programme, in particular the INCO-programme, and would like to see these further strengthened in the next Framework Programme. This also implies that FP6 and ERA must have a global approach.

Norway strongly supports the Commission’s action plan for promotion of women in science. Measures should be taken in order to recruit more women to all levels in scientific careers. Gender balance should also be observed in advisory bodies and evaluation panels, both nationally and in relation to the next Framework Programme.

In order to arrive at a better understanding of the complex problems facing modern European society, scientists increasingly turn to interdisciplinary approaches. This development should be reflected in FP6, also with respect to contributions from the social sciences and humanities. The IHP-programme, and in particular the key-action "Improving the socio-economic knowledge base", should be strengthened.

Administration and co-ordination

In its latest communication on ERA, the Commission argues for fewer and larger programmes while recognising that more countries will be involved in FP6. This represents a formidable challenge. In this context the question of "variable geometry" will necessarily have to be addressed in a careful and thoughtful manner.

Regarding the administration of the Framework Programmes, this falls largely within the competence of the Commission. Norway is in favour of maintaining the programme committees, as in FP5. Active national involvement in the programme committees represents an important link between EU and the research organisations in the participating countries, and contributes to valuable two-way information, communication, transparency and legitimacy. Participation in different expert groups is instrumental in promoting effectiveness of the overall participation. The sharing of responsibilities between programme committees and expert advisory groups is not always clear and would seem to deserve closer attention from the Commission when shaping FP6.

I wish to reiterate that Norway is positively prepared to contribute actively and constructively to the further implementation of ERA and the shaping of FP6.

Yours sincerely,

Grete Knudsen

cc: Director-General Achilleas MITSOS
Directorate-General Research
European Commission