Funding of R&D projects in Europe

Sept. 1, 2005
For many years there has been confusion about the role of the European Community (EC) in supporting and fostering R&D in industrial laser and laser processing development.

Martien H.H. van Dijk

Editor’s Note: For many years there has been confusion about the role of the European Community (EC) in supporting and fostering R&D in industrial laser and laser processing development. Many observers speculate that a massive funding investment, along with internal funding by several states, created, knowingly or not, the strong presence of laser and system suppliers in Europe. For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the EC laser structure I asked Contributing Editor Martien van Dijk to develop a perspective on the current situation. - DAB

The industrial, political, and economic landscapes of Europe have changed dramatically since the end of World War II, 60 years ago. During that period countries lost their colonies-sources of raw material and markets for their industrial products. Coal and steel mines closed. The main part of the shipbuilding industry moved to the Far East. Textile factories closed one after the other.

Leading politicians, wanting to prevent a new European-wide war, realized the need to establish a European Community that would act to stimulate European-wide cooperation not only in economics but also in the fields of research, development, and manufacturing. And beginning in 1958 with six founding states, the European Union was formed. As a result of the end of the Cold War the political integration of Europe accelerated and by May 2004 the European Community had grown to 25 member states with two more states expected to join in 2007.

Cooperation in the fields of science, technology, and development started in 1971 with the launch of the COST program. Today there are three main programs that focus on stimulating multinational cooperation in the fields of research and development: COST, EUREKA, and the Framework Programs (FP).

COST-an intergovernmental framework for COoperation of Science and Technical Research-was set up in 1971 by 19 countries together with the European Community, which then had only six member states. The COST program allows the coordination of nationally funded research on a European level, covering basic and pre-competitive research as well as activities of public utility. Today it has almost 200 Actions and involves nearly 30,000 scientists from 34 European Member States and more then 80 participating institutes from 11 non-COST Member States and Non Governmental Organizations.

Rather than funding research itself, the program supports researchers by funding the cooperation efforts (traveling costs to meetings, workshop/conference organization costs, dissemination costs, exchange of young researchers, training schools).

EUREKA was created in 1985 as an intergovernmental initiative to enhance European competitiveness through its support to businesses, research centers, and universities that carry out pan-European projects to develop innovative products, processes, and services.

Through its flexible and decentralized network, EUREKA offers project partners rapid access to a wealth of knowledge, skills, and expertise across Europe. Projects are funded through national programs. Rules for participation and funding are different for member states. Besides the rule that every member subsidizes its own participating organization, there is a rule that every project must have at least two participating organizations in at least two different countries.

A so-called High-Level Group meets three times a year and endorses new EUREKA projects. Each EUREKA member state appoints a representative to this High-Level Group. Today there are seven thematic EUREKA areas: medical and biotechnology, information technologies, industrial processing, communication, transport, energy, and environment.

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Compared to COST and FP projects the EUREKA projects are strongly market oriented. They help partners to develop a process of product.

Laser-related projects are part of the industrial processing theme, which is subdivided into laser, new materials, and robotics. The relative high participation of SMEs and large companies reflects the strong market orientation of the EUREKA program. For more information visit the EUREKA website at

The European Economic Community started the Framework Program (FP) 25 years ago. Originally the programs were focused on fields where there was a need to catch up with the U.S. and Japan. Participation was mainly limited to members of the EC. Over time the focus has changed and the participation is now also open for non-members of the EC.

Laser-related projects in the Framework Program’s R&D projects focused on lasers, and industrial applications of lasers have been part of BRITE (Basic Research in TEchnolgy) and BRITE/EuRam (European Raw Materials) themes in the first four Framework Programs.

Since the FP5 program BRITE/EuRam is no longer a theme of the FP programs; although laser-related projects may run under one of the other programs. The FP6 framework program, with a budget of €17.5 billion, runs from 2002 to the end of 2006. It represents about four to five percent of the overall expenditure on R&D in EU Member States.

There are three main blocks of activities in FP6:

  • Block 1: Focusing and Integration of European Research
    • Life science, genomics and biotechnology for health
    • Information society technologies
    • Nanotechnologies and nanosciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials, new production processes and devices
    • Aeronautics and space
    • Food quality and safety
    • Sustainable development, global change, and ecosystems
    • Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society
  • Block 2: Structuring the European Research Area (ERA)
  • Block 3: Strengthening the foundation of the European Research Area (ERA)

The main objective of FP6, as true of all Framework Programs, is to contribute to the creation of the European Research Area (ERA) by improving integration and coordination of research in Europe, which, so far, has been fragmented. At the same time research is targeted at a number of goals: strengthening the competitiveness of the European economy, solving major societal questions, and supporting the formulation and implementation of other EU politics.

Participation is open for all organizations in the EC member states. Organizations in candidate EC member states may also participate as well as other associated countries and third countries with or without a Science and Technology Agreement (S&T Agreement). However, the participation of non-EC members is subject to certain conditions.

The FP7 program, currently in preparation, will run for seven years and it will be fully operational as of January 1, 2007. The financial participation of the EC in FP7 is expected to be 72,726 M€. Additionally, it is foreseen that for nuclear research and training the EC will spend some 3,092 M€ in the period 2007-2011.

This industry-driven program will be organized in four sub-programs: collaborative research, joint technology initiatives, coordination of non-community research programs, and international cooperation. Nine high-level themes are proposed for: health; food, agriculture, and biotechnology; information and communication technologies; nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials, and new production technologies; energy; environment and climate change; transport and aeronautics; socio-economic sciences and the humanities; and space and security research.

Discussions with the COST and EUREKA officials have been opened to improve the coordination between the programs and to help industry, institutes, and universities in finding partners and selecting the best program in submitting their project proposals. As in the FP5 and FP6 programs, international cooperation is high on the priority list of FP7. In February 2004, Bellemin and Claude, of the Directory for International Scientific Co-operation, concluded that there is a lack of information and awareness on both sides (EC and third countries) on the new opportunities of international cooperation.

There are three different groups of third countries:

  1. So-called INCO countries-development countries, Mediterranean countries, and Russia and new independent states
  2. Countries that have an S&T agreement-Australia, Canada, Japan, U.S., and China
  3. Countries that do not have an S&T agreement

The kind of international cooperation will depend on the scientific and technical level of the non-EC partners. The cooperation with the INCO countries will support them in their efforts to enhance their level of development. Cooperation under an S&T agreement will be mainly based on common interest such as increasing the critical mass, exchange of experiences in ways of doing things, and accessibility of different databases as well as performing joint research and development projects.

A 2003 report, “An impact assessment of the science and technology agreement concluded between the European Community and the United States of America,” made by an independent panel, concluded that there is a lack of awareness of the agreement both in the European Community and the U.S. Most activities were science-led in nature. Although there were projects involving industrial collaborations, the organizations involved were mainly components of global companies. (For more info, see

As part of the program for international scientific cooperation, the Marie Curie program subsidizes the exchange of individual researchers from EC as well as non-EC countries.

By endorsing the international scientific cooperation the European Community has paved the way for closer political and economic relations. The international laser community, universities, and research institutes as well as industrial companies should benefit from this opportunity.

For more information visit

Contributing Editor Martien H.H. van Dijk has been personally involved in EC project funding over the years. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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