Europe Lags Behind US, Japan in Research and Development but EC Proposes More Than Doubling Funding for `Big Science' Research from 1994-98

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DESPITE a mighty effort, the Europeans still have not overcome a very basic handicap in their approach to research and development: difficulty getting from the research stage to a marketable product.

This is a key reason, according to European science experts, that Japan and the United States still lead Europe in many technological areas, especially computer-related technology.

"For the United States, research is a business. Here, it's a culture," says Kim Ruberg, communications director for Eureka, a program that fosters research and development cooperation among European companies.

In Europe, "there are barriers to transferring knowledge and research to industry. We are lacking on the application side," he explains.

Last year, the European Commission, the administrative arm of the European Community (EC), recognized this problem and set the course for a new direction in EC-sponsored research.

"While Europe is comparatively strong when it comes to fundamental research, {R&D} directly linked to industrial activities has a much lower profile in the Community than in competing countries," the Commission warned in a strategy report written last April.

The Commission also noted lower R&D spending in Europe than elsewhere in the world. In 1991, Community members spent 2.1 percent of their gross domestic product on R&D, as compared with 2.8 percent in the US and 3.5 percent in Japan.

In its September proposal for the "fourth framework," which outlines EC R&D goals for the years 1994-98, the Commission moved away from its traditional role of supporting basic R&D and toward industry-driven research.

It also advocated more EC involvement in "big science," major international efforts in such areas as global warming, the human genome, and controlled thermonuclear fusion.

To pay for all this, the Commission proposed 14.7 billion ECUs, more than double the budget for the current 1990-94 framework. It is far from certain, however, whether the fourth framework will be adopted in its present form.

Many EC countries are skeptical, an EC source says, and not just because recession-weary Europe finds the price tag too high. Some member countries worry about the implications of the EC funding projects submitted directly from companies. …