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Important points 1994-1999

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Fifth research programme: Co-decision in action!

 

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A major boost to research and technological development (RTD) is needed if competitiveness and jobs in Europe are to be safeguarded - on this there is general agreement. Moreover, national governments have publicly proclaimed their commitment to expenditure on research; for example, in June 1998 the Cardiff European Council reaffirmed the importance of innovation for fostering entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, there is a marked difference between theory and practice. Despite declarations of support for research policy, government spending in the Union lags behind that of its main competitors, the USA and Japan. According to 1996 figures, the Union spent a total of 1.91% of GDP on research, compared with 2.45% in the USA and 2.95% in Japan.

This is why the Commission argued that EUR 16.3bn was needed to finance the fifth framework programme for research and development for 1998-2002. Parliament took a similar line: at first reading it wanted 16.7bn but it subsequently accepted the Commission's estimate. However, Council was unwilling to spend more than 14bn. Taking inflation into account this represented a net reduction compared with the fourth framework programme. Council's proposal was thus completely unacceptable to Parliament.

 

Deadlock at second reading

Spending only EUR 14bn on research would actually have meant discontinuing a number of programmes and projects, said the Commission, which then dug its heels in at second reading. However, the Council gave no ground either and rejected Parliament's amendments at second reading. The two institutions therefore had to seek a solution under the codecision procedure, which is based on the principle of equality between Council and Parliament. Once the conciliation procedure had been invoked, both parties were obliged to tone down their positions because they were forced to reach agreement within a set period of time.

Under the Austrian Presidency the Council increased the total amount to EUR 14.3bn but this was still too little for Parliament. There was another catch: the Council's position at second reading included a "guillotine clause" in the form of provisions creating a linkage between the framework programme and the new Financial Perspective which is to come into force after 1999. In other words, in a less favourable financial climate the Council would be able to make even bigger cuts unilaterally. For some Member States this was the sine qua non for supporting the Council.

 

Hands off Parliament's budgetary powers!

The Council's line was "take it or leave it". Parliament was unimpressed - for reasons of principle. Negotiating does not boil down to presenting a fait accompli and, in any case, agreeing to the guillotine clause would have adversely affected Parliament's powers as a budgetary authority, which are laid down in the Treaty. Consequently Parliament was unable to agree to the Council's offer. The result: total stalemate. A record four official meetings of the Conciliation Committee were needed to reach agreement. A compromise was laboriously hammered out. It was not ideal but both sides were ultimately able to accept it.

The outcome was a total budget of EUR 14.96bn, 960 million more than the original Council proposal. Although this is below the desired level of 16.3bn, it is almost one billion more than the Council had wanted. Furthermore, the guillotine's edge has been blunted, SMEs will be given the attention in the framework programme that Parliament wanted and much higher sums have been earmarked for areas such as competitive growth, the information society and quality of life. Council accepted many of Parliament's key amendments concerning both the structure and scientific content of the programme, such as the creation of a fourth thematic programme, with two sub-programmes on environment and energy. It also agreed to new key measures on the ageing population, socio-economic research and (combined) land transport and marine technologies.

In addition, Council adopted EP proposals on research into medical problems of people with disabilities, by creating a new generic research action to enhance the quality of life of disabled people. It also accepted provisions for opening up implementation and evaluation procedures, taking account of environmental and animal welfare considerations, encouraging the participation of women in research, including non-conventional therapies in bio-medical research and requiring that all research projects should have a peaceful, civilian purpose. Finally, another of Parliament's wishes was granted: there will be a mid-term general review of the programme and decisions will be taken on any changes needed.

 

Final outcome acceptable to Parliament

As far as the EP is concerned the result was a success. It showed that, difficult though the conciliation procedure is, it can nevertheless produce acceptable results. Thanks to Parliament's resolute stance, RTD will receive almost EUR 960m more than the Council originally wanted. Parliament had a decisive influence on the structure and substance of the programme and, because of the compromise on the guillotine clause, the EP's prerogatives remain unaffected.

When the new (6th) framework programme comes up for re-negotiation in 2002, the Amsterdam Treaty will be in force and qualified majority voting in Council will put Parliament on a more equal footing with Council. During the recent negotiations, the Council still had to take unanimous decisions, which seriously strained the conciliation procedure. Each Member State could use its veto, which will not be the case in future. The Council will be able to vote by qualified majority, thereby making the conciliation process substantially smoother.

 

Further information: Ton HUIJSSOON (tel. 0032-2-284 24 08 or e-mail Thuyssoon@europarl.eu.int)

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