HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc159-60W
Mr. Hanson

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 12 February. [31498]

Mr. Battle

I chaired the meeting of the EU Research Council on 12 February 1998.

After a hard and long negotiation, the UK Presidency was able to secure unanimous agreement on a "common position" on the EC Fifth Framework Programme for Research Technological Development and Demonstration Activities 1998–2002 (FP5). This was particularly welcome as we have identified progress on FP5 as a key priority for our Presidency. We were also able to achieve a political agreement on the Fifth Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for Research and Training Activities (1998–2002).

The achievement of a common position means that we have secured a firm foundation for bringing FP5 into operation on time thus avoiding a gap in funding for European research. FP5 also represents a significant improvement on FP4 in that it is well focused on a limited number of objectives of clear European importance, complementing the work undertaken at national level. FP5 will deliver real results of value to European competitiveness and society, playing an important part in helping to strengthen the technological edge of European industries and services and in tackling pressing European issues in fields such as health and the environment.

Though it had many very difficult issues to tackle, the Council was able to agree on all areas of FP5 including scientific and technological content, structure and the budget, which was settled at 14 bn ecu (around £10 billion). While my responsibility as President was to reach a compromise all could accept, the outcome very closely reflects the UK's national priorities and objectives.

I also made further announcements on the management of the FP5. In the light of the conclusions of the Council held on 10 November 1997, which committed the Council to consider FP5's management further, I confirmed that the UK presidency would host a Ministerial Colloquium on 28 April in London, to look closely at the management and administration of FP5 and how it can be improved. Its conclusions will provide an important contribution to future work.

Having achieved a common position we can now move onto the next stage in negotiations. We must keep up the pace to achieve agreement on all aspects of FP5, including the more detailed specific programmes to ensure a smooth transition from FP4 to FP5 at the end of the year. I encouraged the Commission to produce drafts of these urgently so that the Research Council on 22 June can reach preliminary conclusions on them.

The Council also received a presentation from the Commission on the rules of participation and dissemination (130j rules) which will again be discussed in more detail at the 22 June Research Council.

I also described work underway to improve co-ordination between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA), which I had set out as a Presidency objective at the 10 November Research Council. The aim is to bring forward a resolution in similar terms to the Research Council on 22 June and the ESA Ministerial Council which follows it.