The European Commission has started detailed work on proposals for a seventh framework programme of research grants, which could command twice as much money as the existing (sixth) programme, or up to 40bn Euros (£26.6bn).
The money, which would be spent from January 2007 to December 2010, would include space and technology budgets for the first time.
Brussels officials said that a draft paper will be released probably after November 1, with formal proposals coming early next year. The European parliament and EU council of ministers would then have around 22 months to formally approve an expanded scheme.
Commission research spokesman Fabio Fabbi warned that this would cause political complications, especially given the standard ‘cumbersome’ procedure for agreeing framework programmes, which usually sees discussions continue past their official launch dates.
‘This is a big challenge and will require lots of work,’ he said.
Another change being discussed is decentralising framework programme management, with an expert report expected to suggest creating specialist award bodies dedicated to promoting priority technologies such as nanotechnology and hydrogen fuel cells.
The paper is also expected to propose creating an independent EU research agency, making framework programme grant awards independently from the Commission. It would have a freer hand on project selection, being able to make payments to single research teams rather than the cross-border consortiums currently required.
Fabbi said such bodies could slash the red tape currently hindering grant applications. Sometimes the funding received is not worth the time and money spent submitting the proposals, he warned.
This is a real problem given the Commission’s current concentration of resources on fewer projects means around 85 per cent of applications are unsuccessful. Fabbi said doubling the budget should cut the number of unfunded projects.