Friday, May 28, 2010

EU Competitiveness Council: Science Must Fight Poverty and Social Exclusion

At a meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council on May 26, European ministers gave their support to a proposal from the Spanish Council Presidency to give the European Research Area (ERA) a 'social dimension', specifying that science must be used to fight poverty and social exclusion. Ministers also tackled a range of key issues impacting the research, industry, internal market and digital agendas.

According to Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation Cristina Garmendia, the success of the Spanish Council Presidency's research, development and innovation (RD&I) programme has 'placed the important role of science in achieving greater social cohesion and combating poverty firmly on the European political agenda.' Speaking to journalists following the meeting of the Competitiveness Council, the minister stated, 'The Spanish Presidency believes the entire programme set out at the start of its term has been successfully achieved.' Spain will hand over the European Council Presidency to Belgium on July 1.

The EU, according to Ms Garmendia, has also been diligent in its quest to promote and encourage scientific excellence, researchers' careers and mobility, and the management of infrastructures.

Reaffirming the Council's position that it will support initiatives to ease the administrative burden in Europe's research programmes, Ms Garmendia noted that synergies between innovation and development policies should be further explored. Researchers, users, and business, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), would benefit from these moves immensely.

The European Commission has tabled a number of options for discussion including reducing the complexity of funding conditions by accepting standard accounting practices of the beneficiaries, and adopting a research-specific tolerable rate of error. In terms of R&D, the EU hopes to clinch 3% R&D intensity by 2020, and has called on Member States to establish their national R&D targets taking into account their circumstances and relative starting points.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Presidency promoted an internet initiative asking European citizens to vote for the most urgent research goal from among 14 challenges proposed by 14 renowned figures including Spanish researcher Margarita Salas and British primatologist Jane Goodall. The winning proposal calls on scientists to rise to the challenge of ensuring more efficient energy storage between now and 2030. Next on the list were laboratory-generated artificial organs to replace damaged ones, and third was the development of robots to help people in their daily lives.

With respect to green cars, the ministers underlined that Member States should be encouraged to adopt and implement a harmonised solution on clean and energy efficient vehicles. They have also called on key stakeholders to use power generated from sustainable and safe energy sources for constructing smart grids and charging electric cars, always keeping in mind that the energy sectors of the Member States vary.

On the whole, the ministers said that, among other things, the research portfolio of diverse technologies must not be narrowed, and emphasis should be placed on research excellence so as to guarantee that alternative powertrains receive targeted research financing.

Established in 2002, the Competitiveness Council has as its main objective the more coherent and better coordinated handling of research, industry and internal market matters related to the EU's competitiveness. This council is made up of minsters of European affairs, industry and research, among others.

For more information, please visit:
Council of the European Union: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/
Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union: http://www.eu2010.es/en/
Internet initiative on top scientific challenge for 2030: http://www.reto2030.eu/votos/ranking.html

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