A few days ago, the European Commission announced the final and biggest ever set of calls for proposals for research under its Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). In total, €8.1 billion will support projects and ideas that will boost Europe's competitiveness and tackle issues such as human health, protecting the environment and finding new solutions to growing challenges linked to urbanisation and managing waste.
The funding, which is open to organisations and businesses in all EU Member States and partner countries, makes up the lion's share of the EU's proposed €10.8bn research budget for 2013.
European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Knowledge is the currency of the global economy. If Europe wants to continue to compete in the 21st century, we must support the research and innovation that will generate growth and jobs, now and in the future. The high level of competition for EU funding makes sure that taxpayers' money goes to the best projects that tackle issues that concern all of us."
The calls target both innovation and a range of societal challenges, building a bridge to Horizon 2020, the next funding programme for EU research from 2014-2020. In total €4.8bn are dedicated to thematic research priorities. Industrial innovation will be supported through close-to-market activities such as piloting, demonstration, standardisation and technology transfer. Special attention will be given to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in a package worth up to €1.2bn. Around €2.7bn will help cement Europe's place as a world class destination for researchers, mainly through individual grants from the European Research Council (€1.75bn), and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (€963m) for research training and mobility.
To help spread excellent research more widely, a new "European Research Area Chairs" initiative is being prepared. A €12mpilot call will select a total of five ERA Chairs, to be hosted by universities or other eligible research institutions in less developed regions in five different EU countries. To host an ERA Chair, institutions must demonstrate their ability to support excellence through providing the necessary facilities and complying with European Research Area principles such as open recruitment.
The Nationalist Government and the Malta Council for Science and Technology have not said, so far, what preparations have been made for Maltese participation in FP7. Malta is close to the bottom of the R&D league in the EU. In 2010, R&D expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was 0.63 percent, compared to 2.0 percent in the EU27 and 2.06 percent in the Eurozone. The biggest spender on R&D was Finland, with 3.8 percent of GDP. Malta was the fifth worst spender.
The lack of commitment to R&D is seen from the sectoral statistics. R&D in industry in Malta in 2010 was 0.37 percent of GDP - four times less than the EU27 and Eurozone averages. Finland and Sweden were at the top of the league. R&D in education was 0.23 percent of GDP (EU27/Eurozone: 0.48%). Guess who was at the top? Finland, of course. As far as R&D in the government is concerned, it seems that we think we know it all. In fact, R&D spending as a percentage of GDP in 2010 was 0.02 percent, compared to an EU27 average of 0.27 percent. Small Slovenia spent 19 times as much as Malta.