EU: Quest to cut red tape in research

The issue of bureaucratic red tape in the EU research framework programmes was recently addressed by the Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. Chair of the European Association of Research and Technology Associations, Christopher John Hull, called for a simplification - in particular the mandatory time-sheets real-costs accounting principle that is required to document the working hours each scientist spends on Framework Programme projects. Hull warned that the average personnel cost certification in its present form was likely to be a complete failure.

Rector of the Technological University of Denmark, Professor Lars Pallesen, said if every participant applying for a project in FP7 (160,000 so far), or those participating in the contract negotiations (35,000 so far), each spent two days on administrative procedures, this would represent 2,240 man-years of work, or the total of his university's staff for one year. The Danish university has the largest amount of EU funding and received EUR29 million (US$42.6 million) last year.

Efforts have to be taken to reduce the time-to-contract which averaged 329 days, Pallesen said. He proposed a fixed deadline of 60 days for the evaluation of an application and another 60 days for contract negotiations.

Vice-president of Phillips Research, Jan van den Biesen, said that business participation had been declining in the EU framework programmes for 15 years, slipping from 39% in FP4 to 31% in FP6. The participation of the private sector in FP7 until now involved only a quarter of the applicants, van den Biessen said.

He focused on three areas that made participation difficult for companies: complex and time-consuming rules governing participation, average personnel costs, and excessive red tape exemplified by the Joint Technology Initiative. Van den Biesen called for a new approach in EU research funding based on risk-tolerance and trust to be implemented in Framework Programme 8.

His comments should be seen against the background of the many evaluations of EU research programmes, notably the Expert Group assessing the FP6 earlier this year. That report concluded: "This is not the worst practice among RTD funders [with regard to management procedures] but comes very close to it."

The message is being heard by the EU research authorities. At a conference arranged by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in Lund last July, Jose Manuel Silva Rodriguez, Director General of the EU Commission for Research, spoke about management simplifications.

Rodriguez said of the need for changing the rules, regulations and red tape of the EU research programmes: "I think that the rules at the European Commission level of the framework programme produce a degree of unhappiness all over the actors: scientists are not happy, research centres are not happy, the Parliament is not happy, colleagues at other Directorate Generals are not happy and my colleagues in DG research are not happy. This means it is time to change. And I promise you that we will change."