European Research Head Starts to Tackle Kafkaesque Bureaucracy

European scientists have heard such promises before. Whenever the European Union appoints a new commissioner for research, he or she always promises to make the E.U.'s Framework Program, a huge multibillion-euro research funding system, less complex and bureaucratic. The current incumbent, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, did it when she was appointed in November 2009. But today, to a degree, she came up with some of the goods and has promised more streamlining in the near future. "We need to replace Kafka with common sense," she told reporters.

Framework Programs typically run for 7 years and fund collaborations of researchers in more than one E.U. member country. The current incarnation, FP7, runs until the end of 2013 and has a budget of €51 billion. But researchers have long complained about its labyrinthine application procedures and micromanagement by E.U. officials who are unfamiliar with how science operates.

Geoghegan-Quinn announced today three measures to simplify the program. Officials will no longer require that participating collaborations set up a new E.U.-approved accounting system to calculate reimbursement for personnel costs. To encourage more small businesses to join research collaborations, owners-managers who take part will be reimbursed at a flat rate for their work (calculating the cost of their labor can be difficult if they don't take a formal salary). Finally, because different directorates within the European Union are responsible for parts of the Framework Program, collaborations sometimes have to follow multiples sets of rules and procedures. Geoghegan-Quinn is setting up a steering group of directorate chiefs to remove these variations.

Geoghegan-Quinn says the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, can make these changes without explicit approval from the European Parliament or the member states, although both were consulted. She has promised that more radical changes, intended for the next Framework Program, will be offered in a green paper in a few weeks' time. After consultation, these will be written into legislative proposals by the end of the year.