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On 12 November 2010 an independent expert group commissioned by the European Commission published the Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The primary aim of this ambitious agenda for European research is to “contribute to the Union becoming the world’s leading research area”. International cooperation, excellence-based research and the reinforcement of human potential in research and technology are some of the objectives of this programme, which falls under the purview of European Research Area (ERA). With an initial timeframe encompassing the period 2007-2013, the programme constitutes a vital investment in the ERA with a budget of around EUR 50 billion.
The evaluation report demonstrates many of positive effects of the programme to date. These include the high quality of proposals, the increased participation in mobility and training of researchers, the investment in research infrastructures, efficient funds allocation, as well as the increased impact of national research promotion efforts and industry’s involvement in research and innovation. Nevertheless, the evaluation also notes some “areas in need of improvement” and raises some “new concerns and dilemmas”. Some of these issues are related to the need to improve the coordination between the Member States and the EU, and to simplify administrative procedures in order to expand accessibility to research opportunities. Particular emphasis is placed on the challenges faced by small and medium-sized enterprises, which are considered to be especially undermined by “complexity in procedures and delayed contracts”. Increasing women’s inclusion in scientific research is another issues raised in the report.
The expert group also presents ten key recommendations, which by and large concern the desired achievement of a clear division of responsibilities between EU and national-level programmes. The need to address a set of “Grand Challenges” is also highlighted, as are the requirements to advance research infrastructures, maintain funding, encourage participation among women and support for underrepresented Member States, and reinforce international perspectives and cooperation. The ERA is taking shape, but much work within the context of FP7 remains to be done.Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme