Brussels' subsidy to shift away from infrastructure

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European Commission proposals aimed at encouraging poor countries and regions to spend more of their European Union (EU) subsidies on research, but placing less emphasis on building new facilities, will be considered in Brussels this week.

If accepted, the recommendations — which are in line with broader EU policy reforms on ‘economic and social cohesion’ due to be introduced after 2000 — will be presented to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers for discussion.

The subsidies, known as ‘structural funds’, will continue after 2000 with the aim of promoting competitive development in poor regions (see Nature 385, 192–193; 1997). But regions and countries eligible for the funds will be encouraged to spend a higher proportion on research than they do now. They will also be encouraged to spend more of the funds allocated for research on training, innovation, technology transfer and dissemination of results.

The building of infrastructure facilities has previously been generously funded. Structural fund spending on research has increased to 5.7 per cent of the total from 3.9 per cent in the early 1990s, but the technology gap between poor and rich countries and regions has closed only slightly.

The new round of structural funds, covering the period 2000-2006, will total ECU275 billion (US$297 billion), including ECU45 billion earmarked for new EU members. The proportion dedicated to research is likely to be comparable to the budget of the commission's fifth Framework programme for research, which will be about ECU16 billion (see below). And the new philosophy on structural funds complements that on the latest Framework programme, which renews emphasis on the dissemination and exploitation of results.

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