Towards a real partnership with society – NGO alliance on Framework programme 7 of the EC | Sciences Citoyennes

Towards a real partnership with society – NGO alliance on Framework programme 7 of the EC

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samedi 4 juin 2005

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European Science Social Forum Network

The European Science Social Forum Network was a platform of non-profit associations and NGOs as well as individual persons that worked to get a model of scientific and technological progress engaged with a solidary, sustainable and fair society.

During the third European Social Forum held from the 15th to the 17th October 2004 in London, a number of NGOs and associations working on the field of science and society (i.e., commercial control of science, science and militarism, human genetics, agriculture, science and citisenship, etc) came together. The opportunity was used to stablish an informal network that would help us to coordinate campaigns and organize common actions, as well as to share information, documents, ideas, human resources, etc.

Campaign for a FP7 more engaged with sustainability and social justice

The Framework Programs (FP) of the European Union (EU) are documents that set the guidelines ruling the budgetary distribution between the different research areas over periods of 4 to 6 years. They set the prioritary thematics and key technologies that will be preferentially  financed by the EU.

At present, the EU is defining the FP7, which will be effective from 2007 to 2013. The FP7 is not yet ready, but apparently it will follow the spirit of the FP6, being largely influenced by industrial competitiveness and buissness grouping interests. Besides, the new conception of ‘European security’ reflects militar interests also influencing the FP7.

The ESSF thinks that Europe deserves better, and that another research agenda is possible.  Thus, we propose a set of guidelines standing for another model of scientific and technological progres, oriented to fulfill societal well-beeing,  enviromental sustainability and global justice.

 The ESSF has sent a petition to the members of the European Parliament.

http://www.essfnetwork.org/fp7doc.html
Member of European Parliament

Concerns: European research policy – civil society actors and researchers react on FP7

 

Paris, 04.04.2005

Dear Member of European Parliament,

We, the undersigned, are supporting a petition on “Framework programme 7 – a real partnership with society?” which delivers an analysis and alternative vision for future European research and development policy (http://www.essfnetwork.org). We are writing to you as a Member of the European Parliament to ask you to support our concerns that there is too little emphasis on social and environmental issues in EU discussions on the Framework Programme 7 (FP7) and too little space for active participation of citizens and civil society organisations in its mode of elaboration.

In FP7, the European Commission will present its research policy as an implementation of the Lisbon 2010 Agenda, the vision for Europe’s future. The Lisbon strategy refers to social standards, cultural values, respect for our environment, high competitiveness and economic strength. The Lisbon process claims to be a broad approach to the idea of innovation focused on a balance between scientific, technical and social innovation and including an enlarged vision of the role and place of citizens (“ecology of innovation”) in order to shape a socially sustainable future for the European society.

However, we are concerned by the communication from the European Commission[1] and the European Parliament[2] regarding FP7. Whereas high competitiveness and economic strength seem to find full reflection in this new research agenda, social standards, public participation and respect for our environment do not.[3]

The petition, signed by more than 350 civil society organisations, scientists, and citizens from 19 European countries (and 12 other countries), shows that there is both scientific and civil society unease about the way that FP7 is being organised and about the priorities it is proposing. The current FP7 process is mainly influenced by technical and business experts who fashion the world for a narrow range of interests and there is not enough influence from the wider European public. The petition continues to gather signatures.

Nothing in “science” dictates thematic programmes or the priorities of research funders. Science can be steered in various ways to fulfil different functions: broadening our understanding of our world; or providing experts, tools and data for public policy making independent from business / industry lobbies; or commodifying nature and knowledge etc.

Critical citizenship has a positive role to play in the building of a democratic knowledge- based society. This society requires the diversification of the types of knowledge recognized as relevant. Innovation should become an important site of democratic experimental practice with more bottom-up experiences and an up-stream approach. The debate about “Which society do we wish to build and which research do we promote for this” is a debate about which vision of the world society we should hold and develop.

We believe that, for example, there should be major research initiatives focused on the problems facing society – on public health and well-being not on genomics; on low-input and sustainable food production rather than on intensive agriculture; on tackling climate change through renewable energy and efficiency not through more nuclear power; on processes which resolve conflict in a non-military way rather than through military might; and on societal consequences of technological choices both in Europe and the wider world.

The European Parliament should make sure that the Commission and member state governments:

  • Recast the themes of FP7 towards social, environmental and public health goals
  • Open research money to civil society control
  • Minimise the direct and indirect control of the allocation of research money by industry.

We wish to promote an open space for a fruitful discussion because we believe that there is no bigger practical statement of our hopes and aspirations for the future than where society places its research money.

We call on Members of the European Parliament, as representatives of the interests of European citizens in the European institutions, to insert these perspectives into the FP7. Please take into account our propositions during the discussion of the FP7 draft in the European Parliament. We would also very much appreciate your signing our petition to demonstrate your support for our aims (www.essfnetwork.org). We would be willing to work with MEPs to propose amendments.

Please find enclosed the full text of the petition, which was launched in the middle of March this year by the “European Science Social Forum”, an informal network of European NGOs. For the signatories of the petition see the enclosed list of organisations and countries.

Sincerely

The ESSF Network

If you wish to contact us, please write to: contact@essfnetwork.org

(or call Claudia Neubauer, Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, France ++ 33 1 43 14 73 64)

Framework programme 7: Towards a real partnership with society

Introduction

Science and technology have been among the most important factors changing society. Most developments have taken place with little political discussion.  The Lisbon Strategy[4] states that, in the ‘knowledge economy’ research and scientific innovation will be the driving force behind ‘wealth creation’. The Strategy intends that Europe in 2010 will be “the globally most competitive knowledge-based economy”. Such an approach supports and judges research and innovation only in its ability to deliver moneymaking ventures, not whether it can make society a more sustainable and healthy place to live. The two are not mutually exclusive; but the question “what is science for?” arises when it is uncritically a profit-driven exercise.

As the major R&D investment by the EU, we can contrast the expected approach of Framework Programme 7 (FP7) with a different research agenda with different priorities, which explicitly aims for a creative, co-operative, healthy, environmentally-sustainable and peaceful society. This briefing outlines such an approach. Questioning the existing structures and priorities becomes more important with the expected doubling of EU research spending from FP6 (€17.5 billions) to nearly €40 billion over 5 years.

There is nothing in “science” that dictates thematic programmes or the priorities of research funders. Science can be steered in various ways to fulfil different functions: broadening our understanding of our world; or providing experts and data for public policy making independent from business / industry lobbies; or commodifying nature and knowledge etc. Those who refuse a proper debate on the goals and conditions of research are, in the current context, allowing the co-option of the research agenda by short-term economic interests. Opening a societal debate, far from restricting the freedom of scientific endeavours, will open new possibilities and options that are not restricted to the immediate search for profit. We believe that the current proposals for developing FP7 place too much power in the hands of the industry lobby and not enough influence from the wider European public in whose name this money is being spent. Market forces are blind – society needs to define its own priorities and there is no other place to do it other than political institutions: participative, inclusive, deliberative democratic processes for research priority-setting are essential. We believe that a different research agenda is possible – one that has a different vision for society’s future.

What are FP7 priorities likely to be?

FP7 priorities have yet to be decided – but the most likely situation is that there will be a continuation of FP6 priorities with the addition of ‘security’,‘space’, and some ‘basic’ research[i] which could take a substantial part of the extended budget. FP6 priorities are, with budget in millions of Euros:

  • Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health: 2514
  • Advanced genomics and health: 1 209
  • Combating major diseases: 1 305
  • Information society technologies: 3 984
  • Nanotechnologies and nanosciences: 1 429
  • Aeronautics and space: 1 182
  • Food quality and safety: 753
  • EURATOM: 1 230
  • Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems: 2 329
  • Sustainable energy systems: 890
  • Sustainable surface transport: 670
  • Global change and ecosystems: 769
  • Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society: 247
  • Science and Society: 80

 

What do these priorities stand for? What is the vision for the future that they portray?

The future vision embedded in these priorities and allocations is one of a society driven by technology, not one that focuses on solving societal problems. For example, FP6 has ‘combating major disease’ as a priority but it was approached through the lens of genomics and biotechnology. Can a genomics approach tackle the behavioural issues associated with sexual health, obesity and alcoholism, which are major causes of ill-health in the community? This seems unlikely, when these issues are largely dependent on multifactoral social and economic problems; where sedentary lifestyle, cars, television, the agri-food industry, large-scale commercial distribution, advertising and social inequality play key roles. It is also highly questionable whether alleviating the global burden of, for example, malaria or childhood diarrhoea in developing countries are best approached in this way. Apart from toxicogenomics, that may be a useful tool to contribute to screen the toxicity of chemicals, genomics seems most likely to develop predictive tests, for which the benefits are contestable and doubtful[ii]. European research policy centred on genomics and biotechnology will fail to face the major public health challenges in Europe (booming chronic pathologies like cancers, obesity or allergies). In biology and medicine the focus on the molecular approach has led to an underfunding of traditional organism-level disciplines, and a resulting erosion of expertise.  Even crucial disciplines such as systematic biology, which is essential in studying loss of biodiversity, climate change, agriculture and fisheries, are underfunded.

Nanotechnology was prominent in FP6 and is likely to be even more prominent in FP7 in convergence with bio- and info- technologies and cognitive neurosciences. Although it may offer exciting new vistas in e.g. medicine, it is likely to be of little use in creating an appropriate technology that will help the majority of the world’s inhabitants. The sinister applications of nanotechnology to uses such as controlling individuals and armaments have to be regulated by international agreements – again an example where public control of research is important.

Global climate change has been described by UK Government Chief Scientist as “more serious even than the threat of terrorism” [iii]. In addition to efforts to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation, the research needed for reducing energy demand should be a major commitment for European research. Yet the budget for sustainable energy systems, which includes useless EC support of more industry research on fossil energy, and distant prospects like hydrogen infrastructure, leaves less than €300 millions for renewable energies, and is less than two thirds of that for research on nuclear power through EURATOM.

Nuclear power has had decades of preferential research funding and remains a high-hazard technology open to great vulnerability in terms of terrorist attack or system breakdown, as well as there being intractable problems with managing nuclear waste. Research into a distant ‘nuclear dream’ – fusion in this case – looks set to continue with the prospect of  Europe alone funding the ITER project, with possible impact on other FP7 budgets even though it will be several decades (if ever) before fusion power will generate commercial quantities of power. This is despite the recent report from the G8 climate change conference, which stated that in cutting greenhouse gas emissions “even a delay of 5 years could be significant”[iv].

The fundamental contradiction between nuclear power generation and ‘security’ – a likely theme in FP7 – is unanswered. Instead, the proposed security theme for FP7 looks like a significant incursion of military and security thinking into (currently) civilian industry and the support for markets in security technologies[v]. There is a very real danger that research on space will breach the valuable divide between civil and military research, and that growing military involvement in European R&D will narrow work on security issues, leading to too great an emphasis on weapons-based approaches[vi].

There is no attempt to prioritise research into pressing global and European problems of exhaustion of natural resources (e.g. water shortage), public health generally, discrimination and exclusion, impacts of new technologies, sustainable fisheries or low input agriculture (some small grants have been made on this in FP6 but there is a need for a bold program for organic and low input agriculture in FP7).

Creating wealth by being the first to reach a global market with new products seems to be the rationale for giving a dominant role to technology in the Framework Programmes. There are strong pressures on the Commission to adopt such a position. Particularly insidious are the views of governments like the UK which says that “Europe should focus the… majority of the Framework 7 programme on industrial competitiveness” and “a long-term research and technology vision should be established that reflects business priorities”[vii]. Yet there is good reason to think that in major areas such as pharmaceuticals, food production and distribution (commodity supply and retail), energy generation and supply, and information technology, the control of the market is already dominated by large industrial groupings to the detriment of efficiency and societal well-being.

European Institutions have a reputation for being influenced most by large and powerful commercial interests. Yet, rather than trying to balance public and corporate requirements, it is appalling that governments simply offer the opportunity for industrial interests to heavily structure the way public money is spent on science. No less than 30% of FP6 budget has been used to subsidise industry research (more than half of it provided to a few large global companies). The Commission talks about “the ‘innovation triangle’: science, society and the economy”[viii], but no specific instrument exists to make the European research system responsive to the non-market needs of civil society and to the demands of not-for-profit actors including e.g. environmental, social, free software and development NGOs and small-scale farmers, consumers and patients organisations. There is now increasing acceptance of the need for public engagement at the earliest stage of the research process.  New participatory research policy instruments have been developed in North America[ix] and the EU is being left behind. In recent years, civil society has become a major location for knowledge, innovation and expertise: humanitarian NGOs mobilise scientists against neglected diseases; patients or victims organisations develop popular epidemiology, and co-produce knowledge and protocols with biomedical scientists; environmental NGO scientists have proposed the hypothesis – now widely accepted – that several classes of chemicals act as endocrine perturbators; farmers and “amateur gardeners” are recognised as the principal contributors to on-farm conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture; free software users cooperate to develop software innovation.

It is clear from this experience that innovation is not limited to specialised professional institutions but can emerge from bottom-up civil society initiatives. Not to tap into and enhance these new knowledge-society dynamics would be actively counter-productive to Europe’s aspiration towards a knowledge-based economy. Assuming a € 40bn budget for FP7, and that a fairly high part of it will, given historical precedents, be spent in large corporations or SMEs programs, we propose that at least €2bn (5%) of FP7 money should be invested in dedicated programs to enhance NGO – academic joint research and innovation projects. In knowledge-society Europe, citizenship is not just access to knowledge (the science communication approach), it requires validation of existing knowledge and also access to knowledge production.[x]

As part of such a forward-looking approach, there is also a critical need for research into the ethical, social, economic and environmental impacts (both on Europe and the Global South) of new technologies and products.  Such studies should not be relegated to a limited ‘science and society’ budget, but be incorporated, with sufficient resources, as a standard part of each major funding area.

The FP7 priorities are not fixed, but the process by which the Commission will come to its conclusions shows biases and omissions. Suggestions for thematic domains in FP7 will be assessed by a variety of criteria dominated by market prospects, contribution to competitive position, international comparisons of spending in other nations, and by the views of the research community and industry[xi]. Note that none of the assessments is about the ability of science and technology to deliver social goods, or the views of civil society.

 

What could be FP7’s thematic priorities?

 Climate change and Energy

  • Renewable energy generation
  • Energy efficiency tools
  • Efficient low-carbon transportation and transport systems

Conflict and social processes

  • Non-violent conflict prevention and resolution processes
  • Social processes for overcoming gender and racial discrimination
  • Verification technology on WMD and other banned/restricted weaponry

 Public health and well-being

  • Tackling major communicable disease using any available tool
  • Mechanisms for identifying and achieving public health goals

 Agriculture, land use and fisheries

  • Low-input and sustainable food production, primarily for local markets
  • Soil conservation and sustainability including climate impacts
  • Responsible and sustainable fisheries

 Genuinely responsible resource use

  • Resource efficient & clean production
  • Waste reduction
  • Sustainable consumption and lifestyle
  • Water conservation (links to agriculture)
  • Appropriate technologies for the developing world and countries in transition

 Understanding systems

  • Improved understanding of environmental processes related to climate change and industrial pollution
  • Reallocation of funds away from molecular biology to traditional biological disciplines
  • Models of sustainable systems in both physical and social dimensions

 Socially-responsive research processes

  • Developing a freer exchange of scientific information and open knowledge through new intellectual property tools that do not restrict access, and open access scientific publications
  • Development of tools to support free exchange of information e.g. free databases, use of free / open source software licences for software research results
  • Generation of mechanisms that ensure the clear and transparent separation of civilian and military research and applications
  • Studies of the ethical, social, economic and environmental impact of new technologies and products within Europe and the Global South.

 

What do these alternatives stand for?

 These themes represent a focus on some of the largest problems facing society. It is not that these topics are absent from the existing FP6 or likely to be completely absent from FP7 – but they are not given priority. They are only tackled from a technological point of view rather than a recognition that these problems have their (sometimes complex) origin in economic and cultural features of the social landscape which technology cannot answer on its own.

Many of these priorities, for example agriculture and conflict resolution, emphasise the importance of a localisation of the research agenda – making research responsive to local need – rather than an assumption that all research needs to be applicable Europe-wide. This programme promotes the free exchange of information and wider access because scientific information can be so powerful, rather than its restriction through intellectual property and expensive journals.

 Many of these technological advances need the explicit incorporation of the social sciences to understand how innovation can best be incorporated into society in an effective way. For example conflict resolution is almost entirely a socio-political subject. Public health measures need to start from an understanding of how people view their own health and what would support them in making use of tools for living a healthier life. Health often depends on lifestyle, housing conditions, stress, employment status etc. and technology may (or may not) have a role to play in dealing with (or causing) these underlying problems.

This set of priorities would make the vision of a future society explicitly based on social justice, sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, healthcare that emphasises well-being as well as dealing with health problems, and the modes of security that emphasise prevention of conflict rather than the military might to deal with it. There is nothing unscientific about this vision – it is just that the underlying values and vision are explicit and open to challenge from anyone and everyone who has a view about how the society ought to be. The current FP7 process is mainly influenced by technical and business experts who want to fashion the world for a narrower range of interests.

Now is the opportunity for Europe to seize the chance of a better vision for its citizens and those of the wider world who will be impacted by FP7. There is no bigger practical statement of our hopes and aspirations for the future than where we place our research money. The Commission, with the support of national Governments, should:

  • Recast the themes of FP7 towards social, environmental and public health goals as outlined in this document
  • Open research money to civil society control, with a reasonable percentage directly controlled by community groups
  • Reducing the direct and indirect control of the allocation of research money by industry.
    ESSF : FP7 – Towards a real partnership with society

 

Organisations that have signed the petition before April 4, 2005 :

CarbonSense Ltd, UK;

Centre for Human Ecology, Scotland;

Centre for Knowledge Transfer, Netherlands;

Catholic Institute for International Relations, UK;

Corporate Europe Observatory, Netherlands;

Dong Xi (Est-Ouest), France;

European AIDS Treatment Group, Belgium;

Five Year Freeze, UK;

Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, France;

Friends of the Earth Scotland, UK;

The Gaia Foundation, UK;

GeneWatch, UK;

Greenpeace, European Unit, EU;

Groupe de Recherche en agriculture biologique, France ;

Health Action International, Netherlands;

Grupo Huracan Corporation, United States;

INES (International Network of Engineers and Scientists), Germany;

Institute of Science in Sociey, UK;

Kairos Europe WB, Belgique;

Living Knowledge Network (Science shops network), International;

Loka Institute, USA;

Nea-human rights caucus, USA;

Pesticide Action Network, UK ;

Queen’s University Science Shop, Northern Ireland;

Réseau international CADTM, International;

Safe Food Coalition, Republic of South Africa;

Science Shop Economics, Netherlands;

Science Shop for Biology, Netherlands;

Science Shop for Physics, Netherlands;

Scientists for Global Responsibility, UK;

Social Audit LTD, UK;

Sustainable Europe Research In, Austria;

The Corner House, UK;

Intermediate Technology Development Group, UK;

Transform!Italia, Italy

Signatures from individuals coming from 19 European countries and 12 Non European countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, NZ, Poland, Portugal, Republic Of South Africa, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA

 


[1]                  COM (2004)0353 from June 16, 2004; Competitiveness Council meeting November 25-26, 2004

[2]                  Locatelli Report,  March 2005

[3]            The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report from March 30 (www.maweb.org; 1,300 experts from 95 countries) reveals that 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation,  – are being degraded or used unsustainably. “Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded”.

[4]            The Lisbon Strategy on the knowledge-based economy was set in place by European leaders meeting in Lisbon in March 2000 with the goal of Europe becoming the “most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.

 


[i]                  Alison Abbott, 2005. Nature 433 p.96. 13 January 2005.

[ii]                  Genewatch, 2004. Human genetic testing and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. http://www.genewatch.org/HumanGen/Sciona/Publications/MP_Briefs.htm#MP_4

[iii]                  King, D.A. (2004). Science 303 p.176

[iv]                  International Symposium on Greenhouse gases, Report of the Steering Committee. Met Office, Exeter UK. http://www.stabilisation2005.com/Steering_Commitee_Report.pdf

[v]                  see Annex A to Communication from the Commission, Security Research: the next steps http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/cnc/2004/com2004_0590en01.pdf

[vi]                  Chris Langley, 2005. Soldiers in the Laboratory, Scientists for Global Responsibility, London. Jan 2005. http://www.sgr.org.uk/DownloadFormArms.htm

[vii]                  UK position paper on the initial approach to the 7th EU Research & Development Framework Programme

[ix]                  The Community-University Research Alliances program in Canada has spent 20 millions € since 1999 and supported about 140 joint research projects between NGOs and academic teams. The Region « Ile de France » is also launching such a program in spring 2005.

[x]                  Helga Nowotny, Michael Gibbons and Peter Scott, 2001. Rethinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty, Blackwell.

[xi]                  Research Themes in FP7, DG Research. http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/future/themes/index_en.html