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Posted: April 30, 2009
European funding program FP7 fares well after two years and proves an asset in crisis recovery
(Nanowerk News) The European Union's largest ever funding programme for research and development has fared well in a review of its first two years. According to a progress report, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) is on the right course to respond to the EU's socioeconomic needs, and is particularly relevant with regard to the challenges posed by the current financial crisis.
Preparation of the FP7 Progress Report is a legal requirement that paves the way for an evaluation of the programme by an independent expert group to be completed at its four-year milestone in 2010. The report is an initial assessment of the effectiveness of FP7 activities implemented during the two years since the programme's inauguration in 2007. It also aims to provide an outline of the EU's current socioeconomic landscape with a view to forecasting and addressing forthcoming challenges.
The report reads, 'The long-term challenges we faced before the crisis have not disappeared, and the Lisbon strategy goals are more valid today than ever. It is time to boost, not cut, spending on research and innovation, both to face these challenges and to lay the basis for recovery.
'FP7 remains a crucial instrument to promote scientific excellence and technological development, responding to EU policy priorities and the needs of industry and society,' the report continues.
European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik said the economic crisis serves as a reality check for research programmes. 'I'm happy to see that FP7 is passing the test; it injects fresh money to support research, with almost a doubling of the annual budget between 2007 and 2013, and acts as an incentive for Member States.'
Results from FP7 funding instruments and initiatives provide evidence that the programme is on the right track. Almost 36,000 research and development proposals were received during FP7's first 2 years, with more than 5,500 proposals (totalling approximately EUR 10 billion) selected for funding. The quality of the process for evaluating these proposals is acknowledged in the report, with 91% of evaluators declaring that the process is of the same quality or better than that used for national programmes' evaluation.
The European Research Council (ERC), formally established in 2007 and an integral part of FP7, has already selected over 500 research projects (11,000 applications were received in the first call) for its 2 mainstay schemes, the Starting Independent Researcher Grant and the Advanced Investigator Grant. These grants support researchers in the early stages of their independent careers and research leaders with a proven track record of excellence respectively in carrying out pioneering projects in Europe.
Similarly, FP7's new Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) scheme has garnered five large-scale partnerships between public and private organisations, targeting areas that are strategic to Europe's future. The initiatives, designed to better facilitate industry-driven research, are already supporting cooperative research into innovative medicines, embedded computing systems, clean skies, nanoelectronics, and fuel cells and hydrogen.
New instruments in place to reduce red tape and improve participation in FP7 also show signs of progress. These instruments include the new Guarantee Fund (making most ex ante financial viability checks obsolete) and the Unique Registration Facility (allowing one-off submission of legal documents). The report surmises that, compared to the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), audit certificates and ex ante financial capacity checks have been reduced by a factor of 10.
The list of FP7 successes continues, including the Risk Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF), established by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to make loans and guarantees available for investment in research, development and innovation projects. Launched in June 2007, 30 operations have been approved, with the value of loans totalling EUR 2 billion at the start of 2009.
The FP7 Progress Report also highlights areas in which further attention is required, such as the need to encourage more participation from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and to increase successful applications from new EU Member States.