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“Researchers looking to the EU for funding still face too much red tape”, say EU Auditors

Cour des comptes - ECA/13/15   07/06/2013

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EUROPEAN COURT OF AUDITORS

PRESS RELEASE

ECA/13/15

Luxembourg, 7 June 2013

“Researchers looking to the EU for funding still face too much red tape”, say EU Auditors

The European Commission has taken a number of steps to bolster its management of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). However, researchers seeking FP7 funding are faced with unnecessary inconsistencies. The ECA also found that FP7 processes are geared to ensuring that funding is invested in high quality research, but with less focus on efficiency. The most efficiency gains can be made by developing better grant management tools, reallocating human resources, shortening processing times and aligning the financial control model with the risk of errors.

FP7 is one of the EU’s key instruments for funding research. It aims to strengthen industrial competitiveness and to meet the research needs of other EU policies. It covers the period 2007-2013 and its total budget amounts to more than € 50 billion. The vast majority of the budget is spent by the Commission or its executive agencies in the form of grants.

The audit found that the Commission has introduced a number of simplifications to the FP7 rules for participation, and that it has been able to align FP7 provisions with beneficiaries’ practices in some cases, but more needs to be done in the future. The Commission’s management of FP7 is strong in three areas - process design, improvement activities and management information, but less so in tools and resources. Processing times for awarding grants have become shorter, but they did not come down to 9 months until 2012. The audit highlighted good practices on how to further shorten time to grant. The quality controls on the selection and follow-up of the projects are functioning well. However, the FP7 financial control model does not sufficiently take into account the risk of errors. This means that low-risk FP7 researchers are subject to too many controls.

“High-quality research is essential for Europe’s long-term economic prosperity, and the Commission is clearly heading in the right direction,” said Ladislav Balko (SK), the ECA member responsible for the report. “But in times of mounting pressure on the EU budget, the Commission needs to streamline its management of the Framework Programme. By implementing our recommendations, the Commission can not only improve its own efficiency, but also reduce the administrative burden on researchers and thereby make the Framework Programme more successful”.

The Commission has introduced the innovative Risk Sharing Finance Facility and Joint Technology Initiatives relatively successfully. However, the ECA found that the implementation of Joint Technology Initiatives has suffered from an overly complex legal framework and the Commission has not sufficiently demonstrated that funding provided by the Risk Sharing Finance Facility leads to investments above the level that beneficiaries would have undertaken anyway, without public money.

Notes to editors:

European Court of Auditors (ECA) special reports are published throughout the year, presenting the results of selected audits of specific EU budgetary areas or management topics.

This special report (SR 02/2013) is entitled “Has the Commission ensured efficient implementation of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research?”. The ECA assessed whether the Commission has ensured efficient implementation of FP7. The audit covered the rules for participation, the Commission’s processes and the setting-up of two new instruments, and its results are likely to be useful not only for the remaining period of FP7, but also for the operational setup of the next research Framework Programme - Horizon 2020.

The audit found that over the course of FP7 the Commission has introduced a number of changes which have simplified the rules for participation. In particular, the Commission has rationalised the requirements and improved its guidance documents for beneficiaries in a satisfactory manner. The Commission has been able to align FP7 provisions with beneficiaries’ practices in some cases but more needs to be done in the future. FP7 beneficiaries are faced with inconsistencies related to some aspects of the rules for participation. The establishment of the Research Clearing Committee is a step in the right direction to tackle these inconsistencies; however the mechanisms for identification of diverging practices are weak.

The Commission’s management of FP7 processes is strong in three areas, i.e. process design, improvement activities and management information, but less so as regards tools and resources. The existing tools do not allow efficient implementation and there are indications that too many staff resources are used for the implementation of certain themes under the Cooperation Specific Programme at the expense of other themes.

The Court’s examination of the Risk Sharing Finance Facility and the Joint Technology Initiatives showed that both instruments have met the needs for which they were created. They have been successful in attracting specific groups of beneficiaries such as small and medium sized enterprises. However the implementation of Joint Technology Initiatives has suffered from an overly complex legal framework and the Commission has not sufficiently demonstrated that funding provided by the Risk Sharing Finance Facility leads to investments above the level that beneficiaries would have undertaken without public money.

The ECA recommended that:

  • regarding rules for participation, the Commission should make further efforts to ensure that beneficiaries’ practices can be used in Horizon 2020 and manage FP7 in a more consistent manner;

  • to strengthen process management, the Commission should deploy IT tools which will integrate all functionalities and it should examine the imbalances in staff workload;

  • to reduce processing times, the Commission should make sure that the processes are automated and implemented consistently across its services;

  • the Commission should make its control activities before and after payment more risk-driven, so as to better focus its control effort; and

  • the EU Council, European Parliament and the Commission should bring the legal framework of the Joint Technology Initiatives more into line with their staff complement. To maximise the impact of the Risk Sharing Finance Facility, the Commission should demonstrate that it targets those beneficiaries which have limited access to finance.

Contact:

Aidas Palubinskas

Press Officer European Court of Auditors

Desk: +352 4398 45410 Mobile: +352 621 552224

press@eca.europa.eu www.eca.europa.eu Twitter: @EUAuditorsECA


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