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On 23/24 March, heads of state and government of EU member states met for the spring meeting of the European Council. Next to issues related to Europe’s energy markets, the services directive and the situation in Belarus, the Council focused on the Lisbon Process, and it devoted a good deal of its attention to education and research matters within this dossier.
In the conclusions of their meeting, the heads of state repeat their commitment to the goal of spending three percent of GDP to research and development, a goal which most of their governments have so far missed by considerable margins. They also demand the quick establishment of the European Research Council, and they call for progress on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The proposal of the Commission for the establishment of a European Institute of Technology (EIT) was formally welcomed, though the conclusion’s wording is suspiciously devoid of enthusiasm. The European Council asked the Commission to submit a proposal on further steps by mid-June, and wants the European Research Council to have a guiding role in matters related to the EIT.
In the absence of an agreement between Council and Parliament on the budget, the conclusions are evasive about the future funding levels of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) and the Lifelong Learning Programme. The conclusions simply demand the “speedy adoption” of FP 7 and they contain indications that the Council believes the missing money for the LLL Programme could come from “complementary sources”.
Negotiations on the funding of FP7 and the LLL Programme have meanwhile been conducted in the form of a ‘trilogue’ between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council, chaired by the Austrian Presidency. Positions appear still very far apart. The next ‘trilogue’ will be held on 4 April. Some observers believe that, even if the April round will result in a compromise, it might already be too late for the two programmes to enter into start on time in 2007.Spring European Council Conclusions