Is there room for civil society in the concept of stakeholder engagement in European research?

The name for the next European Research Framework Programme which will apply from 2014 for the following 7 years – is Horizon 2020 – a name arrived at through means of a public consultation.

That might suggest that there is a serious commitment to ensuring that European citizens have a stake in the Programme; after all, some € 80 bn of tax money is being spent for research: this should provide benefits for the public good.

QCEA has worked on the issue of the Research Framework Programme since 2005; our main interest originated with the Security Research Programme which is part of this overall framework. And whilst our interest in Horizon 2020 is still – at least in part guided by that original interest (the questions of how security is defined, what sort of research is done and for what purpose, who is doing the research, and who is setting the agenda) – we also believe that this is an important area where questions of ethics generally and the terms on which participation in the Programme is managed are also important.

The European Commission published its detailed proposals for this Programme in November 2011 and QCEA has now published a briefing paper in which we set out our concerns and some detailed recommendations for changes to the European Commission Proposals.

Hearing in European Parliament

On 20 March 2012, the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament held a Hearing on the Horizon 2020 proposals. This was an all day event at which – arguably – the members of the Committee were going to listen (hence the word ‘hearing’) to stakeholders. I went along to the hearing to observe and listen; sadly, the arrangements in the European Parliament were such that there were hardly any seats in the Committee room for actual citizens; most of the seats were reserved; this had not been made clear on the Committee website in advance of the meeting. So, as a result, I watched about three-quarters of the meeting on the European Parliament web stream.

The Panels and Speakers – representing all stakeholders?

The hearing consisted of 4 panels with 18 speakers between them and a session (sandwiched between the 4 panels) which was to set the political context with 3 speakers. Apart from the fact that 21 speakers were far too many (for an event that was scheduled to take 7 hours and was supposed to leave a total of over 2 hours for questions from Committee Members and answers from the speakers) it is instructive to see who the speakers were:

There were several Members of the European Parliament and the Commissioner for Research from the European Commission and a former minister of aMemberStategovernment.

There were 10 representatives of various academic institutions and associations.

There were 4 representatives from industry.

And there were two people representing non-governmental organizations, one of which has a clear focus on citizen participation in science.

The keynote address was given by an American academic who was basically telling the audience that European research was not business-oriented enough.

One the representatives from industry and one of the academics represented the Aerospace sector – one a spokesperson for the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, the other the German Aerospace Centre.

So there was very little space for civil society; and the concerns from many civil society organizations about the fact that the European Research funding is focused on business and at technology (and not on other approaches to solving the societal challenges which feature as one of the pillars of the Programme) were certainly cemented by the way the hearing was structured.

The panels were themed: excellent science; societal challenges, industrial leadership and SMEs, and participation priorities.

Chairing led to unequal attention focused on different themes

The first of the panels (and indeed the first of the speakers) was allowed to overrun the allotted time – almost unheard of in the European Parliament normally – with the result that the hearing was running 45 minutes late when the second panel (on societal challenges) started. The chair then informed the speakers on that panel that instead of the planned 15 minutes, each of them now had only 10 minutes to present. In other words, the speakers on societal challenges had 15 minutes of speaking time taken away from them collectively. The question and answer session at the end of this panel was characterized by only a very small number of questions being asked and virtually no time available for answers.

The afternoon followed suit: the political context session overran; the industrial leadership and SME session was not used to catch up on that but was allowed to overrun some more; and the session on participation priorities was then given much less time, and was put under pressure because of the availability of interpretation (this was only available for the time the event had been scheduled for).

So, and whilst the issue of participation (who can participate, on what basis, with what prior effort on the part of project promoters and so on) raises a whole series of important issues, this session only focused on streamlining and simplification of the process of applying for funding.

As a result, I don’t believe that members of the Committee heard anything new. They had their own views, their own focus on industrial priorities, on economic growth at any cost and on the needs of industry to have research paid for in order to profit from the products which arise from it, reinforced. The fact that research might also address issues in a different way; might look at what kind of society we actually want, never even had a chance of being raised.

Security Research – case study

Security research came into the European Research Framework Programme in 2007 after having been trialed for 3 years prior to that through a different funding mechanism. Full details of the history of this can be found in two studies published by Statewatch: Arming Big Brother and Neoconopticon.

Essentially this is a programme of research which was developed by representatives of the defence industry and which is funding the research the defence industry is doing. In the current Research Framework Programme (2007 to 2013) the security research theme has an allocation of € 1 400 million; that represents some 2.7 per cent of the total research programme. In the Horizon 2020 proposals, the security research theme is embedded within one of the subthemes of the ‘societal challenges’ pillar. It is therefore more difficult to assess the amount of money which will flow into this; however, if we take the subtheme that is most clearly the equivalent of the security research theme of the current programme, the financial allocation is somewhere in the order of € 4 000 million; given that this is likely also to include some of the funding for socio-economic sciences and humanities previously funded at the level of € 623 million, the increase between the current and the proposed funding envelope is somewhere in the order of 100 per cent and represents five per cent of the total research programme. There is, thus, a significant increase both in terms of money and in terms of proportion of this area of research.

There is, also, a real concern that by amalgamating security research and socio-economic sciences and humanities, the perceived ‘softer’ sciences – the less technology-focused areas of research could lose out in the implementation.

The detailed proposals as set out by the European Commission in terms of the focus of activities under the heading ‘inclusive, innovative and secure societies’ are:

Inclusive Societies Innovative Societies Secure Societies

Promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth

Strengthen the evidence base and support for the Innovation Union and ERA (European Research Area)

Fight crime and terrorism

Build resilient and inclusive societies inEurope

Explore new forms of innovation, including social innovation and creativity

Strengthen security through border management

StrengthenEurope’s role as a global actor

Ensure societal engagement in research and innovation

Provide cyber security

Close the research and innovation divide inEurope

Promote coherent and effective cooperation with third countries

IncreaseEurope’s resilience to crises and disasters

Ensure privacy and freedom in the Internet and enhance the societal dimension of security.

There is no indication of how the overall amount of money available for this theme should be divided up between the different activities; there is no guarantee that any of the money will go to the social science research which could achieve some of these outcomes – e.g. ensuring societal engagement in research and innovation.

QCEA has recommended that with regard to the subtheme: secure societies, the text should be amended to read as follows (the text in bold represents our proposals for additions):

‘The focus of activities shall be to:

  1. fight crime and terrorism;
  2. identify the reasons why people become radicalized into violence and effective social policy measures to counter these reasons;
  3. strengthen security through border management;
  4. provide cyber security;
  5. increaseEurope’s resilience to crises and disasters;
  6. research, through engagement with citizens and elected representatives, the degree of risk society is willing to take in return for fewer intrusive counterterrorism measures;
  7. ensure privacy and freedom in the Internet and enhance the societal dimension of security;
  8. h.      research the contribution that restorative justice processes can make in the ‘prevent’ and ‘respond’ strands of the counterterrorism strategy.’

QCEA further recommends that where the text of the proposal says that ‘social sciences and humanities shall be an integral part of the activities to address all the challenges’ that the words ‘and 35 per cent of the funding allocated under the heading inclusive, innovative and secure societies shall be earmarked for social science and humanities research.’

Why are we so clear that there need to be additional safeguards? Apart from the evidence of where the money in the current research programme is going in terms of security research, take the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council (the Foreign Ministers of the Member States that is) on 22 and 23 March 2012 on the subject of pooling and sharing of military capabilities:

“Acknowledging the wider implications of defence for technology, innovation and growth, the Council notes with concern the overall reduction of defence Research and Technology investment and its implications on Europe’s ability to develop future defence capabilities. The Council reiterates its commitment to cooperation in Research and Technology. It encourages the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the Commission to pursue synergies with European policies and in particular in the field of Research and Technology, including regarding the new European Framework Programme for Research and Technology (Horizon 2020). This will contribute to strengthening the European Defence Industrial and Technological Base.”[1]

So if we are joining the dots, it is clear that there is an underlying commitment to the European Defence Industrial and Technological Base, which is driven by powerful interests within the industry and which is receiving support in all of the key European Institutions (and no doubt, the Member State governments and parliaments). Civil society – and in particular those of us who care about peace, peacebuilding and the European Union’s uniqueness as a peace project beware – we have a hard road ahead of us if we want to change any of this any time soon. But change it we must.

[1] Council of the European Union, Press Release, Council Conclusions on pooling and sharing of military capabilities, 3157th Foreign Affairs Council Meeting, Brussels, 22 and 23 March 2012, paragraph 7

About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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