Dr.-Ing. Martin Grabert is the executive secretary and director of the European Liaison Office of the German Research Organisations (Koodinierungsstelle EG der Wissenschaftsorganisationen-- KoWi) in Brussels. KoWi represents the interests of Germany's research organisations such as the DFG, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, and others in the European context. Next Wave talked with Dr. Grabert about the current status of the European Commission's 6th Framework Programme (FP 6) for Research and Development, which is due to replace the current 5th FP in January 2003.m

SNW: In a nutshell and from your point of view, what is the goal of FP 6?

Grabert: FP 6 is the next step in the European Commission's efforts to structure and integrate research in Europe within the framework of the planned European Research Area (ERA, see the first sidebar). It builds upon the Commission's experience with the 5th Framework Programme and its predecessors. FP 6 is most likely to commence in January 2003.

The European Research Area

The ERA is the European Commission's proposal to harmonize and structure research activities throughout Europe. It was outlined in a 38-page document " Towards a European Research Area" by the Commission in early 2000. The plan for the ERA covers three thematic fields: integrating research, structuring the ERA, and strengthening the ERA. The European integration of research as a first step will be carried out in priority areas that are equivalent to the priorities in the 6th Framework Programme. Additional information can be found on the CORDIS Web server.

SNW: What does "most likely" mean exactly?

Grabert: FP 6 is based on a proposal by the Commission. This proposal has to be discussed and later adopted in a rather complicated process involving the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Right now I am sceptical whether all the decisions will be made on schedule, because the discussion process is still at an early stage. It is important to remember the significance of the Framework Programme: After the EC's agricultural budget and the structural funds, FP 6 is the EU's third largest financial activity, with a proposed budget of ?17.5 billion.

SNW: Is this budget likely to remain at its current level or can we expect changes to occur?

Grabert: I don't think that too many significant changes will be made. The EC's mid-term financial planning stretches to the year 2006 and therefore covers the full duration of the programme.

SNW: What effects will FP 6 have on young scientists?

Grabert: As far as young scientists are concerned, FP 6 is really great and provides a bunch of opportunities. Financial support [for them] within FP 6 has been doubled to ?1.8 billion compared to FP 5. This is a very positive development. We will have two kinds of funding: institutional and individual funding.

It is intended to make instruments that have been in use and proved to be successful, such as the Marie Curie Fellowships, much easier to apply for. Right now, it is as easy to apply for EC grants as it is to apply for DFG fellowships. New regulations for Marie Curie Fellowships will eliminate the age limit for applicants, which is currently set at 35. Additionally, the fellowships will not be limited to European countries any more. Theoretically, Europeans will be able to do their research in Asia or North America on a Marie Curie Fellowship, while people from those countries will be able to apply for them to work in Europe.

SNW: If I as a young scientist want to receive EC money from FP 6, where do I get further information regarding the prerequisites and application processes?

Grabert: Further information is available at CORDIS, the EC's information server. In Germany, I would like to invite young scientists to check out the KoWi Web site. In other countries, information is available from the national research or funding bodies. If you don't know who that is, the Informal Group of Research and Technological Development Liaison Offices in Brussels for EU R&D ( IGLO) might be of help, too.

SNW: Compared to FP 5, what other changes can we expect with the adoption of FP 6?

Grabert: In short we will have to face many changes (see the second sidebar). At this stage, it's too early to discuss anything in detail. The proposal has just gone through the first reading by the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers also has not agreed to a Common Position yet. But we already know that Commissioner Philippe Busquin wants to implement three new and exclusive instruments for funding research: They are called "Networks of Excellence" (NoE), "Integrated Projects" (IP), and measures as defined in Article 169 of the EC Treaty.

The 6th Framework Programme

The treaty establishing the European Community provides for the creation of multiannual RTD (Research and Technological Development) programmes. The next programme will span the period 2002-2006 to replace the current Fifth Framework Programme. In its first proposal, the Commission has set aside an indicative budget of ?17.5 billion in five specific programmes. In its first specific programme called "Integrating research," the FP 6 specifies seven priority thematic fields of research:

* Genomics and biotechnology for health (?2.0 billion)

* Information Society technologies (?3.6 billion)

* Nanotechnologies, intelligent materials, new production processes (?1.3 billion)

* Aeronautics and space (?1.0 billion)

* Food safety and health risks (?0.6 billion)

* Sustainable development and global change (?1.7 billion)

* Citizens and governance in the European knowledge-based society (?0.225 billion)

Further information is also available on the CORDIS site. For German readers, additional information is available from KoWi.

SNW: What do you think about these instruments?

Grabert: First of all, they are just buzzwords everyone likes and no one will disagree with. But what the Commission really means by these three instruments is not really clear so far. In other words, these new instruments have not yet proven their functionality in the case of European research, they are completely new and will replace instruments that have proven to work over the previous programmes.

SNW: What changes in FP 6 are necessary from your point of view?

Grabert: The priorities defined by the Commission are generally OK. But, as I have already pointed out, the instruments have to be made workable and need to be adapted.

SNW: How has the Commission's proposal been received by European scientific organisations?

Grabert: Basically, the proposal has been well received. The principle of integrating and structuring research in Europe has become a primary objective of the European scientific organisations as well. Therefore, many national organisations have already started follow-up initiatives based on the FP 6 proposal. On the European level, the organisations are planning--together with the European Science Foundation--to establish a European Research Council.

SNW: What will the Council's tasks be?

Grabert: That is still up in the air because this council is also currently under discussion. Financial support will most likely come from national research organisations that are definitely trying for the first time to develop a new approach to pan-European research activities. This is more difficult than it sounds: Funding research across national borders is still a problem for many funding bodies. Germany has already made this legally possible, while countries such as France and Great Britain still have to do this.

SNW: Does FP 6 include aspects that are of importance for the future member states?

Grabert: We have a problem here: The Commission's proposal presents the view of the current member states. But as early as 2004, we are likely to have additional member states among us. So far, the interests of these states are not represented by any means in this proposal. Currently, the problem still is that the future members don't have a lobby yet and also are not speaking with a single voice. But this might change since everyone places great hopes in Michal Kleiber, Poland's new minister of science. He is an expert in science and research and may be able to unite all candidate states behind him and voice their views.

SNW: Dr. Grabert, thank you for answering our questions.