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Document 52006AE0957

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation (Euratom) laying down the rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities in actions under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community and for the dissemination of research results (2007-2011) COM(2006) 42 final — 2006/0014 (CNS)

OJ C 309, 16.12.2006, p. 41–45 (ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, NL, PL, PT, SK, SL, FI, SV)

16.12.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 309/41


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation (Euratom) laying down the rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities in actions under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community and for the dissemination of research results (2007-2011)

COM(2006) 42 final — 2006/0014 (CNS)

(2006/C 309/09)

On 8 March 2006 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Articles 7 and 10 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 31 May 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 428th plenary session, held on 5 and 6 July 2006 (meeting of 5 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 156 votes to three with four abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's proposals on the new rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities in implementing the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) in the areas of research, development and training in the nuclear sector and the dissemination of its results for the period 2007-2011.

1.2

The proposals aim to simplify and streamline procedures and methods with a view to the practical implementation of the Lisbon strategy, as redefined by the European Councils in 2005 and March 2006, and in order to meet the needs of the various research players and end users. However, final judgment on the success of these measures can only be made after the implementation rules are finalised.

1.3

The Commission proposals up to and including Chapter III are virtually identical to those relating to the 7th RTD Framework Programme in the non-nuclear sector (1), even though the numbering is different (2). The Committee therefore refers to its opinion on the subject and reiterates and draws attention to the comments contained therein (3) which are also of relevance to the text of the proposal currently under review, up to and including Chapter III.

1.4

In particular, the Committee believes that the European nuclear fusion programme is a text-book example of genuine integration of Community efforts and of fully coordinated action, in the framework of the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA) and the Contracts of Association.

1.4.1

This programme plays a key role for the EU in the area of fusion energy research, and leads to ongoing Community support in the form of financial and human resources and is enhanced by high environmental sustainability through the ITER/DEMO project activities (4).

1.5

The Committee is convinced that nuclear energy (5), which generates approximately one third of the electrical energy currently produced in the European Union (6), contributes to the independence and security of energy supplies (7) and to the sustainability of European economic development, in line with the Kyoto Agreements; this, however, is on condition that better, more efficient and safe waste management standards are applied and that competitive European research and industries in the area of nuclear technology and services can be developed.

1.6

The Committee considers that appropriate levels of Community funding are scheduled for research, training, demonstration activities, coordination and support, networks of excellence, and the financing of fusion energy research.

1.6.1

The EESC stresses the need to promote research and the application of clean and safe technologies, in accordance with the needs and characteristics of individual Member States and urges that respect be shown for the decision of those Member States which do not consider that nuclear energy provides the answer to the problem of how to meet their future energy requirements and also take account of this stance in their research programmes.

1.7

The EESC highlights the role of training activities and programmes designed to develop careers in research and stresses that these actions are particularly important for the private sector, civil society and the general public.

1.8

The EESC believes that to enable participation in EURATOM FP7 and its specific programmes, it is vital to provide a framework of rules that is simple, comprehensible, clear-cut and transparent and that, above all, can provide certainties to potential players, particularly those of a smaller scale, on the principles and criteria that govern access to contracts and project management, as well as their evaluation, selection and formulation.

1.8.1

The EESC regrets that this is not always reflected in the proposal and believes that the efficacy of these rules should be monitored by independent experts after a reasonable period of time and that the assessment report should be submitted to the Council and the Committee.

1.9

The Committee considers that in order to respect the ‘value for money’ principle vis-à-vis European taxpayers, the promotion and dissemination of research results is essential. It therefore points out that a fair balance must always be struck between, on the one hand, the protection of Community interests and the concerns of the Member States, not least as regards defence, and intellectual and industrial property rights, and on the other, the equally significant risks that could arise in cases of an inadequate dissemination of scientific and technical information in the sector concerned.

1.9.1

Lastly, the Committee believes it is essential that the IPR helpdesk be reinforced in order to offer timely and proactive assistance to potential participants in grant agreements and for indirect measures to support researcher training and development, as well as for the preparation and signature of consortium agreements.

2.   Reasons

2.1

The EESC welcomes the fact that this matter has been referred to it in good time, and is fully aware that it has exclusive powers regarding consultation on EURATOM Treaty matters. The EESC attaches great importance to these powers, in view of the extremely sensitive nature of nuclear energy within society and the need for proper information and consultation.

2.2

Atomic energy raises serious public involvement issues, on account of the major risks and waste processing problems inherent in the sector.

2.2.1

The EESC calls for a clear statement of intent to strengthen performance and safety/security evaluation models in this area by means of permanent information, consultation and training structures.

2.2.2

The aim should be to launch a process of better governance with a view to identifying the best strategic options, and to addressing public concerns about the use of nuclear energy and its long-term impact.

2.3

The Committee has already expressed its views (8) on the Commission's proposals for simplifying (9) administrative procedures and reducing the effort these involve, in the context of the proposed decisions on the EC Seventh Framework Programme and the EURATOM Seventh Framework Programme, which were adopted on 6 April 2005.

2.3.1

The Commission has singled out ten fundamental measures as being ‘crucial factors for success’, which are to be implemented with a view to simplifying the procedures for accessing, participating in and managing the FP7. The EESC has stated on the subject that ‘As they stand, the application and approval procedures involve too much work and are too expensive, causing difficulties for scientific and industrial users. The European research programme must be a worthwhile venture for those taking part in it, including in terms of the risk involved in making the application’ (10).

2.3.2

The EESC has also stressed the importance of involving SMEs ‘even more closely in research, development and innovation’ and has emphasised that ‘to win, SMEs set up specifically to develop and market innovative high-tech products above all need [adequate] start capital and venture capital’. In order to achieve this, ‘procedures must be kept practicable and in due proportion to the resources of SMEs’ (11).

2.3.3

The Commission set out the following points on simplifying regulation procedures:

a narrower range of funding schemes which would ensure continuity with the FP6 instruments and enable a wide flexibility of use;

high-quality, complete and timely communication providing unambiguous and consistent interpretation of the implementing objectives and provisions for both EC 7FP and EURATOM 7FP;

streamlining the information requested of participants and extending the two-step procedure, in addition to systematically using IT tools;

protecting the EU's financial interests without placing an undue burden on participants by reducing a priori controls to a minimum, on the basis of a single list of criteria;

operational autonomy to consortia through the use of contracts which allow for great flexibility and an extensive use of lump-sum financing, on the basis of the actual costs incurred and external, independent audits;

tighter selection procedures by replacing the comitology procedure with a simpler information procedure;

more effective use of R&D appropriations, via closer coordination with those allocated to the other policies under the Lisbon strategy and by reducing the Community's administrative/management costs for R&D projects;

wide use of flat-rate financing by means of streamlined Community financial contributions;

eliminating existing project cost reports which have proved excessively complex, and clarifying the definition of eligible costs;

the definition of Community contribution rates by activity type (research, development, demonstration, training, result dissemination and use, knowledge transfer, etc.), corresponding to individual activities, together with maximum ceilings in accordance with the type of activity; these should apply to the consortium and not to individual participants.

2.4

Furthermore, the current proposal presents several changes with respect to the previous Regulation (12), in particular with regard to: the aim of the proposal; definitions; confidentiality; the evaluation, selection and attribution of proposals; the different forms of grants; refund of costs; the ceilings for Community contributions; consortium risks; the dissemination, use and rights of access; specific rules for the European Fusion Development Agreement and the Agreement on Staff Mobility.

2.4.1

With regard to those sections which are common to the present proposal and the counterpart proposal on the EC Seventh Framework Programme (Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the rules for the participation of undertakings, research centres and universities in actions under the Seventh Framework Programme and for the dissemination of research results (2007-2013) (13), the Committee would refer to the opinion which it is currently drawing up on the latter proposal (14).

2.5

The Committee agrees with the limits set for nuclear research funding and training. It particularly welcomes the fact that contribution ceilings will rise from 50 % to 75 % for SMEs, public bodies, education establishments, universities and research organisations (15), and that coordination and support actions, and actions in favour of training and career development of researchers may reach a maximum of 100 % of the total eligible costs.

2.5.1

Furthermore, the Committee suggests indicating, in a table to be appended to the proposal, the various types of activity and the relevant maximum contribution rate in place, as well as the possibility of combining these contributions, particularly for research infrastructure, with other types of Community aid (Structural Funds, etc.).

3.   General comments on the rules for participation in the 7th EURATOM framework programme

3.1

The EESC regards it as essential to ensure a framework of rules for participation in the 7th EURATOM framework programme and its specific programmes that is simple, comprehensible, clear and transparent, and exists in all the Community languages. This framework should in particular provide potential participants, especially smaller bodies, with certainty about the principles and criteria covering availability, participation conditions, presentation and assessment of project proposals, classification and contractual obligations, rates and systems for distributing Community co-financing, protection of industrial and intellectual property and exploitation and diffusion of knowledge, without prejudice to specific provisions on the thematic priority for fusion energy.

3.1.1

In particular, the Committee recommends that, with the exception of any particular predefined criteria, the selection and award criteria for the indirect actions covered by Article 14, are reincorporated. These general criteria are:

scientific and technological excellence and the degree of innovation;

the ability to carry out the indirect action successfully and to ensure the efficient management of resources and competences;

relevance to the objectives of the specific programme and the working programme;

European added value, a critical mass of mobilised resources and contributing to Community policies;

the quality of the plan for using and disseminating the knowledge, the potential for promoting innovation, and clear plans for the management of intellectual property;

respect for ethical principles and gender equality.

3.2

The Committee has already given its view on the general themes relating to the simplification and rationalisation of the framework programmes for Community nuclear research, in its opinions on the 7th EURATOM framework programme and on these two specific programmes covering (a) nuclear energy with special reference to fusion energy research and (b) the nuclear research activities of the Joint Research Centre. The Committee is also drawing up an opinion on the proposal for participation rules relating to the 7th framework programme of non-nuclear Community research (16).

3.3

As regards the rules governing the EURATOM programme, the Committee attaches special importance to the need for a more radical simplification of the formalities concerning the presentation of the files.

3.3.1

The Committee is pleased that the joint responsibility previously provided for in EURATOM FP6, which could have been a significant obstacle to the participation of small and medium-sized bodies (firms, universities, etc.), has been removed from the current proposal. Instead, the Commission may retain approximately 1 % of the Community contribution (17), as a guarantee against the risk of lack of coverage in consortia (Article 37). A considerable part of the research activities in the EURATOM sector can also be entrusted to small and medium-sized bodies, for whom this rule could have been a serious obstacle to participation.

3.4

The EESC has reservations about the large number of possible derogations to the participation rules laid down in the more than 50 articles proposed, as well as the considerable possibilities of varying criteria and regulations being laid down in the annual work programmes, the specific programmes and the invitations to present proposals. These derogations concern in particular: the number of participants and additional access conditions (Article 11); the principles of evaluation, selection and award (Article 14 (1)); the exceptions to the publication of invitation to tender (Article 13); the evaluation criteria with the possibility of laying down additional specific criteria (Article 14 (2)); the Community financial contribution to networks of excellence (Article 34(1) and (3)).

3.4.1

With regard to networks of excellence, the Committee has serious reservations about making the contribution in the form of a flat-rate sum, as it may never materialise and prove to be completely out of touch with reality. This could hamper the development of networks of excellence, which are necessary to the achievement of the specific objectives set out in the programme.

3.5

The Committee underlines that the necessary flexibility of management and definition of the needs in individual projects should not be achieved at the cost of the clarity, certainty and transparency of the participation requirements, the predefined evaluation and selection criteria, and a firm framework for the proposed financing and co-financing arrangements.

3.6

The Committee takes the view that when the grant agreement allows the research consortium the possibility of using invitations to tender to carry out certain work or extend certain activities, the invitations to tender should be organised according to the rules laid down by the Commission, to ensure maximum transparency and accessibility of information.

3.7

The EESC underlines the importance of the provisions on monitoring and control of the programmes and indirect actions for research, demonstration, coordination and training in the nuclear field; it also suggests establishing a ceiling for expenditure on those functions and on the management of invitations to tender, assessment, selection and contract follow-up and auditing of the financed projects. This ceiling should not exceed an overall cost equivalent to between 7 % and 10 % of the overall Community resources of the 7th EURATOM framework programme. The aim should be to devote the bulk of the resources to genuinely primary activities (research, demonstration and training) and to the achievement of practical results which can be transferred to market applications, which are the final objectives of a Community framework programme of research.

3.7.1

In this context, the EESC recommends that, in the framework of IDABC (18), the compilation, archiving and management of the monitoring results are stored in an integrated database.

3.8

The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposals as regards the forms of grants: reimbursement of eligible costs in the form of a lump sum or flat-rate financing. However, it suggests that the most suitable methodology should be clarified, including with regard to simplification of eligible costs, and that a prospectus of the various options be appended to the regulation to make it more comprehensible to potential users.

3.9

The Committee recommends summarising the various types of Community financial contribution described in Articles 32 and 34 in a table and annexing it to the proposal. This table should include upper funding limits and any possibilities for combining them (particularly for research infrastructure) with aid from the Structural and Cohesion Funds, the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund, not forgetting provisions made in the JEREMIE initiative (19) that should facilitate the participation of smaller bodies in the 7th EURATOM framework programme.

3.10

As for the proposed rules on dissemination, use and access rights, notwithstanding the distinction between acquired and previous knowledge and exceptions in the military and security fields, the Committee believes it is essential that the IPR helpdesk be expanded in order to offer timely and proactive assistance to potential participants in grant agreements (see Article 18(5) and (6), and Articles 19 and 21) and indirect measures to support researcher training and development, and for the preparation and signature of consortium agreements, which lay down additional rules on the dissemination and use of results and intellectual property rights (Article 23).

3.11

Lastly, with regard to the ‘Fusion energy research’ thematic area, in the two opinions mentioned earlier the Committee placed great emphasis on the importance of controlled thermonuclear fusion research in the context of the ITER project, the preparatory programme (DEMO), and studies on confinement (20).

3.11.1

The EESC takes note that the annual base rate proposed for the Community's financial contribution in the above-mentioned thematic area should not exceed 20 % over the duration of the 7th EURATOM framework programme. The Committee considers this rate as the necessary lever for an essential contribution by the Member States to a well coordinated (see point 1.4) community programme providing the indispensable basis, anchorage and input for the Joint Undertaking ITER and to DEMO. While this rate may be appropriate for a start, it is questionable whether it will be sufficient over the whole duration of the programme as the incentive for a satisfactory and necessary funding contribution on the part of the Member States. The Committee therefore recommends that, as a precautionary measure, this rate be raised to 25 %, which would still be only half or one third (with respect to Article 32, §1) of what would otherwise be contributed by the Community. Moreover, the Committee feels that these upper limits, as a rule should also be applied.

3.11.2

Concerning the proposed maximum contribution rate of 40 % for specific cooperative projects in the area of Contracts of Association, with priority support for ITER/DEMO initiatives and for initiatives in the context of the Agreement on Staff Mobility, the Committee questions whether, in the long run, this rate may be sufficient for desired projects or actions to initiate the required member states contribution. The Committee refers to Article 52, point 2.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The Committee questions the removal from Subsection 1 (‘Calls for proposals’) of the provision relating to the possible prior issue of calls for expressions of interest, to enable a measure's objectives and justification to be accurately pinpointed and assessed and to avoid the unnecessary administrative costs involved both in preparing proposals that cannot be adopted and in submitting them to the Commission and independent assessors for selection and evaluation.

4.2

Calls for expressions of interest could be accompanied by Proposers' Information Days, designed to involve potential scientific and industrial users more closely in defining Community nuclear research policy initiatives.

4.3

The EESC would stress the potential dangers of the insufficient dissemination of scientific and technical information in the sector. While recognising that some reservations should be expressed on this subject, there is no need to rule it out entirely. In practice this might mean drawing up an extremely precise technical protocol for content and dissemination methods, taking into account the requirements of security/safety and reliability, while safeguarding a maximum of transparency.

4.4

The EESC feels that it is very important to provide greater information on the rules governing (i) checks that the necessary conditions are met, and (ii) the legal status of participants, and to disseminate them more widely. Similarly, clear and comprehensible rules on the simplified procedures in place for the two-stage submission of proposals and criteria and requirements for the two-step evaluation should be made available to all research players.

4.4.1

These rules should be made available not only to the expert evaluators, but also to project proposers, in accordance with unambiguous and uniform criteria.

4.5

The EESC would also stress the benefits of organising training and information initiatives on the safety/reliability of nuclear power, not only for researchers but also for representatives of civil society and for the general public, while also bolstering instruments and procedures for the development of sound, watertight models for assessing the reliability and safety of atomic energy.

4.6

On the assessment of research results, their dissemination and the protection of intellectual and industrial property rights, a number of rules and safeguards are provided for by the present proposal, the grant agreements, the consortium agreements, Article 24 and the other provisions of the EURATOM treaty (21), the Contracts of Association, the European Fusion Development Agreement, the European joint undertaking for ITER and related international agreements, and, lastly, multilateral agreements such as the Agreement on Staff Mobility. Additionally, the EESC thinks that a revised ‘IPR-EURATOM guide for proposers’ should be disseminated as widely as possible, outlining obligations and benefits for potential participants in the research, demonstration, training and development activities of the 7th EURATOM framework programme in a clear and transparent way.

Brussels, 5 July 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  COM(2005) 705 final.

(2)  In fact, there are some exceptions: e.g. frontier research projects.

(3)  e.g. the comments on the legal status of research institutes, access rights to findings, intellectual property rights, reimbursement of costs, funding arrangements and simplification, types of grant and the general principles underlying the European Charter for Researchers.

(4)  See also point 3.11.

(5)  See OJ C 110 of 30.4.2004, rapporteur: Mr Cambus.

(6)  Energy produced in EU-25 in 2004: Nuclear energy 31,2 %; Natural gas 24,3 %; Crude oil 17,1 %; Hard coal 13,1 %; Lignite 10,2 %; Primary energy 4,1 %. Energy consumed in the same period: Crude oil 39,2 %; Natural gas 25,4 %; Nuclear 14,8 %; Hard coal 13,7 %; Lignite 4,9 %; Primary energy 2,0 % (Eurostat, Energy, Issue No 5/2006).

(7)  In 2004, gross imports — dependence on imported energy — in EU-25, represented 53,8 %, of which crude oil and petroleum products 33,2 %. Energy dependence of the four major EU Member States: IT 87,7 %; DE 64,6 %; FR 54,3 %; UK 5,2 %. The only EU Member State which is not energy dependent is DK, which has an energy dependence rate of –53,5 %. (Eurostat, Energy, Issue no. 5/2006).

(8)  See OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(9)  COM(2005) 119 final — SEC(2005) 430/431 of 6 April 2005.

(10)  See OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, point 1.11 — rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(11)  See OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, points 1.12 and 4.15.2 — rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(12)  Council Regulation No 2322/2002 (Euratom).

(13)  COM(2005) 705 final of 23.12.2005.

(14)  See CESE 557/2006 (INT/309) — rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(15)  See CESE 557/2006, point 4.6 (INT/309) — rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(16)  See footnote 14.

(17)  See CESE 557/2006, point 4.11.2 (INT/309) — rapporteur: Mr Wolf.

(18)  See OJ C 80 of 30.3.2004 on IDABC (Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to Public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens).

(19)  See OJ C 110 of 9.5.2006, rapporteur: Mr Pezzini.

(20)  See OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, rapporteur: Mr Wolf, points 6.1 et seq.

(21)  See footnote 16.


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