Framework Programmes Evolve


Europe is presently undergoing a most exciting period of transition. Via a cobweb of changes a large number of nations are moving towards creating a federation of states, the European Union (EU). It is possible that in the end all of Europe including Russia and Turkey will be included. This is an experiment of a kind never tried before and it will be ongoing for many years. Strategic components for the success of this venture, such a research and innovation, will be dependent on well-understood, clearly organized structures with clear-cut organizations. The EU has chosen for the first decades of its existence to use a series of changing Framework Programmes to create what has been called a European Research Arena. Elements of these Framework Programmes aim to promote a European identity through such activities as supporting collaboration between scientists across national borders and encouraging movements of researchers between universities in different countries. A fundamental underlying principle has also been to link research with innovation, in a way that reduces the distance between basic research, applications, and products.

The Framework Programmes have been loathed by many academic scientists, who describe them as Loch Ness monsters of bureaucracy, where with each new Framework Programme diffuse new rules and terminologies tend to appear every five years. The procedures involved in selecting grant rewards have also been considered impregnable and foggy. Suspicions abound of secondary decisions being made in closed rooms in a process very different from classical, quality-controlled peer-review systems. Some of the suggested very large structures in the most recent, 6th Framework, Programme have added to scientists' anxieties. These structures would be very difficult to assess from the point of view of quality, competitive advantage, and evaluation of results. The mixture of research and commercial innovations being intertwined in the Framework Programmes has added to the confusion. I believe that the Framework Programmes have played an important part in starting to move European scientists together. Particularly relevant have been the programs supporting scientists so that they can spend time in other European laboratories, but also various collaborative projects encompassing several research groups across many countries. It is, however, my firm belief that time has now come to split the Framework Programmes and to create a more conventional European Research Council (ERC), an organization more clearly under control by scientists. This ERC should not be used to replace the various national research councils. It should be used to support elite centers, large technical projects, and collaborative research projects using clear peer-review protocols. Likewise, it would support certain special big tech activities like the European Organization for Nuclear research (CERN), that is, functions that cannot be developed in an optimal manner at the level of the individual nations. It should be a logical professional and scientific hub for European science. NIH and NSF in the United States could at least in part be considered as role models for how such an ERC should function. In parallel it may be prudent to create a European Innovation Council (EIC) to professionally support the development of results of science and innovations into applications and products. This EIC would take care of the significant application part in the present Framework Programmes. Role models for such an Innovation Council can be found at the national levels in European countries, i.e., in my own country, Sweden. A logical time frame for the suggested changes could be to introduce them at the end of the 6th Framework Programme.

The author is president of the Karolinska Institutet and does his research at Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institute, S-17177 Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail:

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