The idea of expanding the ‘scale and ambition’ of the European Union’s structural funds towards strengthening investment in research and knowledge is in itself excellent and necessary. However, one must be careful to make sure that the structural funds are invested directly in science and education, and that they will bring the anticipated impact.
My personal impression (and in part observation) is that some ex-Soviet EU countries are using the structural funds as a substitute for their own investment in science and education, while the proportion of spending for research is well below 1% from the national budget, and in some cases as low as 0.2-0.4%. This is totally incoherent with the EU objectives!
The structural funds are very welcome by the scientific communities in those countries, but without the political will evidenced by a proper proportion of spending on science and education from the national budget, this will remain only a short-term benefit which will conclude with the end of structural fund supplies.
The situation could be corrected, for example, by providing structural funds conditional upon own investment at a certain predefined level, below which the improvements achieved via the investment of structural funds cannot be sustained in the long term.
I am also not sure whether the structural funds are always used efficiently and for the intended purpose. Since we’re talking about investment in R&D, quality assurance could be achieved by adopting international peer review for national structural fund projects.
And finally, I would not trust politicians of those countries who are solving the economical crisis by drastically and disproportionately cutting R&D spending. One would badly need impact assessment to see how the money has been spent so far (by having external evaluators to really go on-site and see what is done instead of reading reports) before providing new structural funds.
Aigars EkersLetters to the EurActiv editor