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The First Six Months of FP7 and an Outlook on the Portuguese EU Presidency

bridges vol. 14, July 2007 / Letter from Brussels

by Martin Schmid & Sabine Neyer

 

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Martin Schmid

In December 2006 the 7th Framework Program of the EC and EURATOM for Research, technological development and demonstration 2007-2013 has been launched. Today, in almost all areas, first calls are either open or already closed, and evaluation is ongoing. It seems that the framework program is more popular than ever - the Commission reports that it has received more than 19,000 proposals to date. This is more than what was received during an average full year of FP6. However, I want to put the spotlight on the new tools that are about to be developed or are already in place in FP7. Regular readers of this column are, of course, familiar with these new instruments, but I'd like to briefly summarize what has happened so far and what is coming in the near future.

 

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First, let's turn to the major creation of FP7. The European Research Council (ERC) is still under construction, the anticipated executive agency not yet established, while the first call, focusing on young researchers (Starting Independent Research Grant), has already been closed and the evaluation has been started. The officials in charge are unsure whether they should be happy about the impressive participation, or depressed because only about 2% to 3% of the 9,167(!) proposals will eventually receive a grant. With the next call only a few months ahead, the European Commission is looking for a solution to this extremely low success rate. One cause, of course, is the relatively small budget the ERC can spend during its first two years. Not much can be done about that, except to wait until 2010 and the following years when the budget will be more than four times the level of 2007. The two-stage evaluation procedure will be finalized at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Then we will know the few lucky ones or, to put it more correctly, the most excellent. The first call for "advanced investigator grants" will be launched this autumn. Find more information at http://erc.europa.eu/index.cfm.

Another new tool is the joint technology initiatives (JTI's). Their nature has already been described in previous articles in this column; general information can be obtained from http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/art171_en.html. Of the six initiatives foreseen under FP7, each to be created by a separate council decision, the Commission has so far proposed four:

· the Innovative Medicines Initiative, focussing on safety and efficacy of new drugs (http://www.imi-europe.org/);

· the ARTEMIS Initiative dealing with the fast-growing area of embedded computing systems;

· the ENIAC initiative working on the promising field of Nanoelectronics;

· the Clean Sky Initiative aiming to reduce the environmental impact of air transport.

Throughout, Member States have taken positive positions on these initiatives, and negotiations are making good progress. It seems realistic to adopt the four regulations in time to launch first calls under the JTIs own governance at the end of this year.

The third new tool is the participation (and co-funding) of the EU in research programs undertaken by several Member States (initiatives under Article 169 of the EC-treaty, for general information visit: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/art169_en.html). FP7 foresees four such initiatives, the first of which, the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Initiative, has recently been proposed by the Commission. Its aim is to enhance the quality of life of older people through the use of new information and communication technologies. The negotiations are just about to start, and because they have to be decided in concert with the European Parliament, will not be adopted before spring 2008.
To be continued...
 

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Higher Education during the Portuguese Presidency - a Selection of Different Topics


Education-research-innovation - completing the magic triangle

 

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Sabine Neyer

Europe needs a competitive university system to achieve the Lisbon Goals, the message is clear, but the way to achieve it is controversial. One of the aspects of the Portuguese Presidency within the Council of the EU will be the "modernization of Higher Education and Universities" and a better connection to research and innovation. Legally, the issue of Higher Education is a main competence of the member states of the EU: Any plan can only be realized by an accorded modus operandi, but without legal commitment. Although the commission has been keen to put the issue forward via several communications about "modernizing universities," the Council of Ministers is non-committal and stresses the national competences in the field of education.

Education systems in Europe: "Variatio delectat"
 

Austria faces a very special aspect of the conflict-laden area of competences in education: Traditionally, the access to universities has been open to any Austrian student for most studies: In contrast to the US, anyone who had passed the school-leaving exams in Austria could go to the university. With the accession of Austria to the EU, and after a sentence of the European court, this pillar of the Austrian university system had to be moved. Today, for several studies - the most outstanding one is medicine - EU students have to be treated like Austrians. Many German students, who didn't pass in the German "Numerus Clausus" system, are now inundating the Austrian medical universities. According to studies, 80% of these students intend to leave Austria after passing the final diploma in Medicine. This puts Austria´s health care system in serious difficulty: Unless Austria has the right to give a certain number of places to students willing to remain in the country and be part of the health care system, a massive lack of doctors will become a reality within a few years. If the issue should be put forward to the European Court of Justice again, the EU has the option to speak out clearly if it really wants to hinder Member States from deciding about their education systems, or if competences in the field of education will remain with the Member States following the treaty of the European Union.


A celebration of the mobility: 20 Years "Erasmus"

The Portuguese Presidency will celebrate a memorable anniversary this year: 20 years of the Erasmus Student Mobility Program. The idea of this program is as simple as it is efficient: Give young students the opportunity to study for some months in another country and then have them come back with language skills, the ability to integrate into different cultures, and exams accepted by the home university. The numbers of the mobile students are significant: More than 1.5 million students all over Europe, around 42,000 young people in Austria, participated in this program, and the number of participants will increase by 2013 to 3 million students all over Europe. With the new EU Program for Lifelong Learning 2007-2013, the framework has been created for even more mobile students.

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About the authors: Sabine Neyer and Martin Schmid work as attachées for scientific affairs at the Austrian Representation to the EU in Brussels.


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