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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Research in Europe,June, 2008

In this edition:
  • French university funding reform faces renewed opposition
  • Ethics of agricultural technologies under scrutiny
  • Farm ministers back ban on toxic pesticides
  • Finland goes 'from words to deeds' on innovation
  • Commission mulls law changes to cover nanomaterials
  • Trade Unions call for REACH amendment to cover nanomaterials
  • Single access point to research careers in Europe launched
  • MEPs want two billion per year for clean tech
I know these are many articles but they are quite short all of them. And they are really interesting, I sincerely wait to see the development on them.

French university funding reform faces renewed opposition

24 June 2008

French proposals to reform the country's university funding by introducing a more performance-oriented approach have attracted renewed opposition among students.

On 10 June 2008, the French Senate published a reportexternal proposing changes to the current French university funding system, criticised for its opacity and complexity.

Drafted at the request of French Research and Higher Education Minister Valérie Pécresse, the report recommends basing university funding more on universities' performance rather than on the number of registered students. Indeed, the current system pushes universities to enrol more first-year students than they can handle to ensure cash flow.

To end this, the senators' report recommends increasing performance-related funding for research from the current 20% to 30% by 2009 and up to 50% in the long term. As for teaching, performance-related support would be increased from 3% to 10%.

To evaluate performance, senators recommend using several criteria including the amount of outside funding attracted by university research laboratories, namely business sources.

Another criterion could be to evaluate employment and salary levels of students graduated from different universities at intervals of six months and three years, as well as to allocate university funding on the basis of the number of students actually taking exams rather than the number of registered ones. source

My comment: Being a theoretician myself, I don't approve evaluating a university performance by the business money it attracts. Especially, in Europe, where the business is hardly interested in academic life. This won't lead to anything good for the universities. That's why I hope this trend will pass away and people will figure out universities should be judged by the accomplishments of their staff in all the activities-business, academic, publishing, popularization, whatever. It's no so straight-forward as our politicians would like it to be and following USA in that will be lethal!

Ethics of agricultural technologies under scrutiny

23 June 2008

Responding to Commission President José Manuel Barroso's request, the EU executive's ethical advisory body will issue an opinion on modern agricultural technologies by the end of 2008.

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGEexternal ) examines, at the request of the Commission President or on its own initiative, ethical questions arising from the rapid advances in science and technology.

The opinions are prepared by 15 independent experts representing different fields, such as biology and genetics, medicine, pharmacology, agricultural sciences, ICT, law, ethics, philosophy and theology.

Stakeholders representing the public sector, NGOs and industry gathered, on 18 June 2008, at a roundtable to debatePdf external on ethical aspects of modern developments in agriculture technologies.

Under discussion throughout the day were the ethics of food security, the sustainability of agriculture, global trade, biofuels, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), GMOs and intellectual property rights (IPR), all of which are set to be addressed by the Commission's opinion.

The aim of the meeting, organised by the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGEexternal ), was to contribute to the group's upcoming opinion on the issue.

The opinion is being prepared at the request of Commission President José Manuel Barroso. source

My comment: For the opinions themselves, check the source. They basically said: we LOVE GMos. Just as expected. Obviously, everyone loves GMos and that's enough to accept them for safe and good for Europe. Sure, what's to loose? Oh, wait, our independence, our health, our freedom. You know my opinion on GMos, I'll just repeat that we need fresh and really INDEPENDENT scientific evaluation-such that requires funding to make experiments and give a qualified opinion, not just read the results that Monsanto gave to FDA and say, oh, ok, sounds fine to me.

Farm ministers back ban on toxic pesticides

24 June 2008

The Council's political agreement bans the marketing and use of substances proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction amid claims from manufacturers that the new rules will drive up food prices even further.

After several failed attempts to find an agreement on the Commission's overhaul of the bloc's pesticides legislation, EU agriculture ministers reached a political agreement on a compromise text put forward by the Slovenian Presidency on 23 June 2008.

The compromise text was strongly backed in particular by the French, Italian and Czech delegations, while the UK was the strongest opponent, supported by Ireland, Romania and Hungary.

Ministers had so far failed to agree on the core elements of the proposal, namely a positive list of active substances establishing criteria for the approval of substances and a compulsory mutual recognition scheme for authorisations. They also remained divided over the so-called 'cut-off criteria' introducing a market ban on a wide range of 'active' substances that pose potentially severe risks to humans and the environment (EurActiv 13/07/06). The Parliament voted to support the Commission's proposal in October 2007 (EurActiv 24/10/07).

The political agreement reached by ministers paves the way for legislation that will "totally prohibit the marketing and use of substances proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction". However, "in exceptional cases", if available products are not effective enough to protect plants, other hazardous substances may be used "under strictly regulated conditions" for a maximum period of five years.

Following the political agreement, ministers should adopt a common position on the text in autumn 2008, so that it can be transmitted to the Parliament for its second reading. source

My comment: I can't but applaud such decisions, even if I find them for too weak. But let's hope that they are just the beginning. I mean, obviously producers will say it will make everything more expensive, they say it whatever you offer them. The point is that people are not willing to sacrifice their health. And that Europe isn't willing to invest in health care when it can stop the problems at their root.

Finland goes 'from words to deeds' on innovation

26 June 2008

Based on the recommendations of one of its former prime ministers, Finland is set for a complete overhaul of innovation policy and its management. Plans for market-oriented innovation and tax incentives to attract foreign brains to the country are set to be adopted in August.

The new strategy will help the country to progress "from words to deeds," said Petri Peltonen, responsible for Finland's technology and innovation policy and implementation, presenteing a proposal for National Innovation StrategyPdf on 24 June in Brussels.

A broad definition of innovation

The novelty of the final proposal lies in "the wide definition of innovation," which includes not only science and technology, but also "many non-scientific and non-technological features," explained Peltonen. "Being able to develop both at same level of resources and seriousness is probably something new Finland is doing," he said, listing design, branding, business concepts and innovation in management, production, workplace and services as examples of "the soft side of innovation".

A user-oriented strategy

Another novelty is the role of users and the clear market orientation of the proposal. Peltonen said this is now being taken "seriously" and it is evident that the user and market orientation "call for change in national policies and in particular in the way policies are implemented in different organisations".

In fact, the strategy proposal can, to some extent, be seen as a national implementation plan of the 2006 Aho report on creating an innovative Europeexternal , which urged creation of an innovation-friendly markets in which businesses can launch new products and services. Following that report, the Commission launched an initiative aiming to create EU-wide lead markets (LMI) on sectors such as eHealth or renewable energy.

Money not an object

Aho also emphasised that "the cheapest solution is not innovative, because cheapest solution is based on current technologies".

The overall strategy consists of four main blocks. These are international dimension of innovation, demand and user orientation of innovation, supporting innovative individuals and communities and broad management of change.

Bold tax plans

To boost entrepreneurship, "there are clear recommendations" for tax incentives for private investors investing in risky businesses and for attracting qualified people from abroad with lower tax rates than they would normally see in Finland".

In addition, up to €1 million of public money can be invested in a growth company through a new European young innovative company fund, which is "something reasonably radical in Finland".

The Finnish Government will take a decision on the proposal in August after which it will be passed to the Parliament for discussion. The evaluation of all organisations involved in innovation will be conducted between August 2008 and March 2008 to determine the necessary changes for implementing the new policy.

To read a full interview with Petri Peltonen, please click here. source

My comment: Sounds great to me, I just want to see it implemented. If they go for it, I'm sure other countries will also try it in which case, we'll all be winners :)

Commission mulls law changes to cover nanomaterials

19 June 2008

The EU executive's regulatory review of existing European legislation concludes that current laws may need to be modified as the depth of scientific knowledge on nanomaterials increases. Specific labelling schemes for products containing nanomaterials could notably be developed.

The current EU legislative framework "covers in principle the potential health, safety and environmental risks in relation to nanomaterials," concludes a Commission Communication on regulatory aspects of nanomaterialsexternal , published on 17 June 2008.

However, the Commission states that "current legislation may have to be modified in the light of new information becoming available, for example as regards thresholds used in some legislation".

The communication covers nanomaterials currently in production and/or placed on the market, but does not address nanomaterials or -particles that occur naturally or are unintentionally produced through, for example, combustion.

Based on the EU executive's regulatory reviewPdf of EU legislation in relevant sectors, the communication finds that nanomaterials are covered under current EU laws on:

  • Chemicals, namely REACH, consisting of specific rules on the manufacture and market authorisation of substances on their own, in preparation or in articles;
  • health and safety of workers, and;
  • product requirements for health and safety of workers, consumers and protection of the environment:
    • Groups of products: plant protection products, biocides, new approach legislation, cosmetics, aerosol dispensers, medicinal products and cars;
    • food legislation: general food law, novel food, food contact materials, food additives, food supplements, feed legislation;
    • General Product Safety Directive on consumer products not covered by specific regulation, and;
  • environment: directives on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), major accidents (Seveso II Directive), water, waste, air quality, soil protection and environmental liability.

According to the communication, the best place to start in order to enhance the protection of health, safety and the environment is simply to improve implementation of current legislation by reviewing existing elements supporting implementation. The elements in need of review include the different test and risk assessment methods that serve as a basis for implementing legislation, administrative decisions and manufacturer's and employer's obligations.

As for labelling of products, the Commission does not exclude the possibility "that a need would be identified for specific labelling requirements" for nanomaterials. Until then, it says, nanomaterials must comply with the existing EU law on the labelling of products, warnings and other information for consumers on the properties of products.

The regulatory review also identified a number of domains in which more research on nanomaterials will be conducted to improve the scientific knowledge basis in support of the regulatory work. These include:

  • Developing reliable measurement methods, reference materials and materials characterisation;
  • review and development of test methods for human health, safety and the environment;
  • developing exposure information throughout the life-cycle of nanomaterials,
  • review of existing risk assessment methods;
  • risk management for workers' protection purposes;
  • networking existing and establishing new infrastructures to examine health, safety and environmental aspects of nanomaterials. source
My comment: What I don't like is that they excluded the "unintentional" nanoparticles. This provides a good back-door for everyone whi wish to use it. And I don't see anything definitive in those statements. The point was to creat new procedures for checking the safety of products, not to rely on the old ones. Silly.

Trade Unions call for REACH amendment to cover nanomaterials

1 July 2008

European labour unions have called on the European Commission to amend the REACH regulation on chemicals to better protect workers against nanomaterials throughout their lifecycle. Their call comes shortly after the EU executive argued that nanotech is already covered by existing EU regulation.

"Workers all along the production chain from laboratories through to manufacturing, transport, shop shelves, cleaning, maintenance and waste management" are exposed to nanomaterials manufactured and placed on the market without true knowledge of their potential impacts on human health and the environment, states a resolutionPdf external adopted by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on 25 June.

The confederation calls on the Commission to amend the bloc's chemicals legislation (REACH) to cover nanomaterials manufactured or imported below the threshold of one tonne per year. According to ETUC, nanomaterials could escape the current chemicals registration procedure as they would probably weigh less.

Unions say another argument in favour of amending REACH is the fact that the legislation's current requirement for a chemicals producer to provide a chemical safety report only for production volumes above 10 tonnes per year "will allow many manufacturers or importers to avoid doing a risk assessment before putting nanomaterials on the market". ETUC therefore wants a mandatory chemical safety report "for all substances registered under the REACH regulation for which nanometer-scale use has been identified".

Overall, ETUC is calling on the precautionary principle to be applied to nanotechnologies and at least 15% of public nanotech R&D money to be earmarked for safety research. "After the asbestos scandal, ETUC finds it unacceptable that products should now be manufactured without their potential effects on human health and the environment being known," said its confederal secretary, Joël Decaillon.

In a parallel development, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) launched a stakeholder dialogue on responsible development of nanotechnology on 24 June. source

My comment: Well, obviously I agree. I'm kind of surprised by the initiator of this but better them than no one. I hope people consider seriously the eventual damage to people by nanoparticles-there are documented evidences that this tiny substances have different effect over people than the normal versions-check After The Pink Goat for the case of pulverised swine brain that caused alergies and other health problems to worker in a meat factory.

Single access point to research careers in Europe launched

26 June 2008

The Commission has launched a new web portal regrouping existing information and services aimed at boosting mobility of European researchers and improving their career opportunities.

Language and cultural barriers as well as fragmented information on available career opportunities are currently hindering researchers' mobility in Europe, said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik at the launch of 'EurAxess' on 24 June.

EurAxessexternal is a new web portal which aims to facilitate researchers' access to information on their mobility options and help them pursue a career in Europe. It provides a single access point for job offers, assistance for professional stays in a foreign country, information on the rights and duties of researchers and their employers as well as access to a network of European researchers working outside Europe.

It thus regroups four existing EU initiatives to promote researchers' mobility and career development: the European Researchers' Mobility Portal, the ERA-MORE Network, the European Charter & Code for researchers and their recruitment and the ERA-Link.

Improving employment and career prospects for researchers is part of the EU's strategy to fight the 'brain drain' to the US and enhance the EU's competitiveness so that it can meet the core aims of the Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs.

Recent EU-wide statisticsexternal show that despite repeated political commitments and numerous Commission initiatives to create favourable conditions, mobility of scientists remains limited in the EU and member states' ability to attract foreign researchers varies widely.

As part of the relaunched European Research Initiative (ERA), the Commission last month adopted a Communication on creating better careers and more mobility for researchers. Among the EU executive's proposals was the creation of pan-EU pension schemes targeted at researchers. source

My comment: I love that. I have to yet check it, but I love the idea, because I have such a problem finding a conference to attend. I know about Google, it's just that it's so annoying. And being in touch with other scientists is really important to our profession.

MEPs want two billion per year for clean tech

Published: Friday 11 July 2008

The European Parliament is urging the Commission to make available considerable funds to drive the use of less polluting energy technologies as part of the EU's efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

"From 2009 onwards, at least EUR two billion per annum of the European Union budget" should be spent in support of "new low carbon and zero carbon technology R&D, demonstration and commercialisation," according to a non-binding report adopted by a large majority of MEPs during their plenary meeting in Strasbourg on 9 July.

But these monies should not be diverted from existing research budgets, such as the Seventh Framework Programme () for research, it adds.

The report, authored by Polish Christian Democrat MEP Jerzy Buzek, sets out the Parliament's views on the Strategic Energy Technology (SET Plan), proposed by the Commission in November 2007 (see EurActiv LinksDossier and related coverage).

The SET Plan proposes several measures designed to boost the uptake of 'low carbon' energy technologies, including through European industrial initiatives for technologies like wind, solar and bio-energy as well as nuclear fission, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and 'smart' electricity grids.

Buzek's report agrees in broad terms with the technology focus of the SET Plan, but argues that more needs to be done to improve the energy efficiency of the EU's economy. The report also laments that the Commission's Communication on the SET Plan did not tackle the tricky issue of how, and by whom, new technology research should be financed.

The Commission is expected to present a separate communication on SET Plan financing in December 2008. source

My comment: Obviously, I agree on that. But I doubt the EC will agree to the expense. They just don't like to spend money on science.

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