European Commission to cut research funding red tape

The European Commission has set out its plans to simplify the procedures for taking part in EU-funded research projects
May 12, 2010

European Commission to cut research funding red tape
The European Commission has set out its plans to simplify the procedures for taking part in EU-funded research projects. The Commission hopes that cutting red tape in this way will entice the very best researchers to get involved in the framework programs.

'I want researchers to spend more time in the lab and less time in the office,' stated Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. 'Our proposals aim to minimize administrative burdens in Europe's research programs. We need to get the best researchers and most innovative companies taking part and we need to enable them to concentrate on results, not red tape.'

The simplification strategy, outlined in a Communication from the Commission, is split into three parts. The first part concerns changes that can be made under the current legal and regulatory framework. For example, better user support (in terms of easily understandable documents, user-friendly IT (information technology) tools and optimised business processes) reduces the time taken to award grants and make payments.

The Commission has also committed to ensuring that rules are applied consistently and that calls for proposals and deadlines are timed to take into account major holiday periods. Finally, the Commission plans to investigate the use of prizes, noting that these are administratively simple to run and encourage other investors to spend money on research to win the prize. The Commission will run a pilot action for prizes under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

The second strand of the simplification plan is devoted to more radical changes to the current financial rules. Both the European Parliament and Council must give the green light in order for these changes to take place. Ideas put forward here include a wider use of 'average cost methodologies', which would free projects from accounting separately for each small item of expenditure.

Recording personnel time for accounting purposes is cited as a problem by many grant beneficiaries; the Commission suggests paying a lump sum for personnel based on an agreement of the personnel costs during grant negotiations. The Commission also proposes allowing projects to use the same accounting methods for EU projects as they do for national research schemes.

The third and final part of the Communication concerns changes which could be implemented under future framework programmes. Here the Commission plans to explore options which would work on a 'payment by results' principle. 'The Court of Auditors itself has asked whether instead of the current system of 'payment by input', we could move towards 'payment by output',' explained Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn. 'Agreed objectives would be set in return for funding. Payment of full amounts would be linked to whether those objectives are achieved.'

Mrs Geoghegan-Quinn emphasised that simplification could be achieved without compromising on financial control. 'I am a former member of the Court of Auditors,' she pointed out. 'I can tell you that multiplying different and overlapping procedures equals confusion. Clear and simple rules, consistently applied, equal good financial control.'

For his part, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said: 'The review of the Financial regulation which the Commission will present next month will underpin these ideas for simplifying research funding with concrete legal proposals, helpful also in many other policy areas. We need simpler rules to encourage potential beneficiaries of EU funds - such as small and medium enterprises or NGOs [non-governmental organisations] - to apply for them. Simplification means the EU budget serving citizens and businesses better.'

The Commission has also released details of the newly-appointed group of experts that has been tasked with reviewing all aspects of the FP7. The 10-strong group, chaired by Rolf Annerberg of the Swedish Council for Environment, Agricultural Science and Spatial Planning (FORMAS), will probe all aspects of the FP7, including its impacts on the European Research Area (ERA), the global position of Europe in science, the efficacy of novel measures under the FP7, and the role of research in efforts to tackle major societal challenges. The group's findings will feed into the design of the Eighth Framework Programme (FP8), which is scheduled to begin in 2014. The Commission is expected to publish its proposals for the FP8 in late 2011 or early 2012.
More information.