EU moves to cut red tape for research

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The European Commission has taken steps to simplify EU funding for research and innovation to cut costs and attract more participants, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Accounting burdens and costs for SMEs in the EU's FP7 research programme have been reduced immediately, said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU commissioner for research, innovation and science.

A new steering group made up of senior Commission officials has also been set up to tackle inconsistencies in the application of funding rules across EU member states, the commissioner announced yesterday (24 January).

"The three changes we are announcing today will save millions of euros and deliver better value for taxpayers' money. They will feed into better research results and lead to new products and services. So it is a big contribution to the Innovation Union and the 'Europe 2020' strategy," said Geoghegan-Quinn.

The measures come in response to concerns voiced by FP7 participants, who often criticise the costs and lengthy processes involved. Wider simplification steps will follow in time for the next EU research programme in 2013, the commissioner stated.

"We need to replace Kafka with common sense. We need to send red tape to the shredder. We need simple and clear rules, consistently and rigorously applied," she added.

Simpler accounting, more SMEs?

From now on, EU research grant holders will not be required to set up parallel accounting systems when claiming back money for personnel working on FP7 projects. They no longer need to pay for certificates setting out their staff calculation costs either.

SME owners without formally registered salaries can now be reimbursed for their work on research projects through flat-rate payments. The existing rules prevented them from being able to claim for their time spent on FP7.

The measures are designed to attract more SMEs to the programme. Currently, they only account for 14.7% of participants in the areas in which they are eligible to take part, Geoghegan-Quinn revealed.

"We want to attract even more and better applicants, including dynamic small businesses which can't cope with reams of red tape," she announced.

In April 2010, the Commission proposed a broad simplification of EU funding rules, including a revision of the Financial Regulations, which govern the overall budget. This would require the consent of the European Parliament and EU member states, however.

The Commission will present legislative proposals for the next research and innovation programme by the end of 2011, after a consultation to be opened in early spring.

The European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) welcomed Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn's three simplification measures, particularly the relaxation of rules on calculating staff costs, and expressed hope that the rules would be fully implemented.

However, it noted that overall participation remains the same and called on the new steering committee to ensure consistency in all member states.

''This first batch of simplification measures is a welcome demonstration of the Commission's responsiveness to the concerns of beneficiaries. As always, however, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. EARTO will be monitoring carefully the practical implementation of the new measures, including at ex-post audit level,'' stated EARTO Secretary-General Christopher John Hull.

Innovation has taken centre stage in EU policymaking, with Brussels placing research, education and the Innovation Union flagship at the heart of the 'Europe 2020' plan for growth and job creation.

The European Commission announced plans for an innovation strategy last year. The blueprint was originally drafted by DG Enterprise and had a business focus, but its scope was broadened when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed commissioner for research, innovation and science.

Patent reform and new sources of finance are at the heart of the EU's new innovation strategy, published on 6 October 2010 by the Commission.

The EU has also announced the first 'Innovation Partnership', which will begin this year and is dedicated to healthy ageing.

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