HC Deb 25 November 1997 vol 301 cc506-7W
Mr. Timms

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will make a statement on the outcome of the European Union Research Council on 10 November 1997. [18056]

Mr. Battle

I represented the UK at the meeting of the EU Research Council on 10 November 1997.

The meeting made useful progress in resolving outstanding issues in the negotiations on the Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Agreement has now been reached on most issues of scientific and technological content.

The Council agreed conclusions on the management of FP5 which I warmly welcome. Besides outlining the role and functions of programme management committees through which Member States oversee the implementation fo the programme, the conclusions provide for the establishment of advisory groups users of research who will advise on the detailed content of the programme and monitor it strategically as it progresses. It has been a high UK priority to involve users in order to improve the targeting and responsiveness of the programme. The conclusions also welcome the Commission's intention to set time targets for the various steps in the management process, notably proposed evaluation, contract negotiations and payments, which should provide a valuable stimulus to more efficient and streamlined administration.

The Council discussed the question of programme structure. A large number of Member States favour five thematic programmes, on lines proposed by the UK, but consensus on this issue has yet to emerge.

The Council considered the five options for pursuing nuclear fusion research in FP5 put forward by the Netherlands Presidency at the Council's last meeting on 15 May. Broad support emerged for further consideration to be based on the third of these options, under which EU research effort retains the goal of eventual development of a fusion reactor, with a view to the Council reaching a decision on the Commission's proposals at its next meeting in February.

The Council gave final formal agreement to the proposal to increase funding for the Fourth Framework Programme by 115 mecu.

In responding to a presentation by the chair of Eureka (Portugal) on recent progress, I made clear the importance of coordination between European organisations involved in research and drew particular attention to the importance of links between the Community and the European Space Agency.

Foreshadowing the UK presidency, which will begin in January, I urged the Council to make the strongest efforts possible to reach a common position on the Framework decision at its next meeting on 12 February 1998 under my chairmanship. I made clear that the overriding task for the UK presidency in the research area is to make the maximum progress possible with the FP5 negotiations and keep the tight timetable for introducing it on track.