Parliament backs efforts to simplify the implementation of EU Research Framework Programmes, but suggests more could be done in a resolution passed on Thursday. The EU research funding system should place more trust in applicants and be more risk-tolerant, albeit with clearly defined rules, say MEPs.
MEPs say that the Commission's April 2010 communication on simplifying research framework programmes lists some serious and creative measures to remove bottlenecks faced by researchers, but add that the system should be made more user-friendly, by making its legal framework more consistent, and reducing the number of provisions. Above all, the system should be clear, unambiguous and manageable, they add.
The resolution, drafted by Maria da Graça Carvalho (EPP, PT), was approved with 553 votes in favour, 12 against and 7 abstentions.
Risk management, not avoidance
MEPs believe that EU research funding should be more trust-based and risk-tolerant towards participants at all stages, with flexible rules. Nevertheless, any simplification process should be carefully deployed within the current Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), so as to maintain stability, consistency and legal certainty for participants.
The resolution reflects concern that the current system is excessively control-oriented, which tends to waste resources and reduce participation. Its "zero risk tolerance" management methods avoid risk, rather than managing them, note MEPs.
Steps to make procedures more efficient and user-friendly should include, inter alia:
financial control methods which clearly distinguish between fraud and error,
uniform interpretation and application of participation rules,
broader acceptance of usual accounting practices for checking participants' eligible costs,
clearer terminology on the use of flat-rate and lump sums,
total abolition of time-recording mechanisms, such as time-sheets, and
use of the "single audit approach" and "real-time" auditing to enable beneficiaries to correct any systemic errors and submit improved cost statements the following year.
MEPs also welcome reductions in average time-to-grant and time-to-pay, but express concern that the time from proposal deadline to signed contract (time-to-contract) is still too long. The Commission should shorten it to a maximum of 6 months and establish appropriate deadlines for evaluation and contract negotiation, says the resolution.
EU research and innovation programmes have grown in recent years, in terms both of application numbers and budget size. More money brings more control and rules that are particularly difficult to cope with for SMEs, high-tech start ups and smaller institutes. Researchers are therefore calling for procedures to be harmonised and simplified, and more trust to be placed in their management of EU research funding.