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Paying for European Research

The EU has over 400 funding programs, many of which are dedicated to particular fields of research ranging from nuclear science to bee keeping, but how do scientists get their hands on the money?

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Fred Stroh, of the Jülich Research Center in western Germany, knows how complicated it can be to receive funding from the European Union.

He spent months dealing with EU eligibility formalities, contracts and funding schemes, organizing 15 research partners and putting together the scientific proposal and goal description when he assembled an international team to study Arctic ozone depletion.

"You put together a consortium and assign certain duties to certain scientists," said Stroh, describing how he organized the project that received two million euros ($2.45 million) of EU support and ran from 2001 to 2004. "It can be a long process of determining goals and evaluation methods."

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Researchers say receiving funding it too bureaucratic, a situation the EU hopes to change

EU officials admit the process can often be a drawn-out affair, especially for researchers who typically are not used to dealing with finances and paperwork, that's partially their intention.

"We have heard from many researchers that the application process is too bureaucratic and too burdensome," said Antonia Mochan, the European Commission spokesperson for science and research. "We have tried to address those difficulties in the next proposed framework, but a certain degree of control is necessary when you're dealing with such large sums of taxpayer money."

Billions available to research groups

Though there are dozens of EU organizations that offer considerable research funding, the European Commission's Framework Program is the union's largest research funding pot. The program's 17.5 billion euros ($21.5 billion) for 2001 to 2006 can be awarded to universities, research centers, businesses or even individuals. Details for the 2007 to 2013, which could total over 67 billion euros, are still being discussed as part of the union's long-term budget.

With so much money to be handed out, it's no surprise that many companies around the union are more than willing to help researchers find their pot of gold.

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Knowing where and when to apply for funding can be complicated

Welcome Europe, a Paris-based company, consults and trains groups searching for EU grants. Knowing where to find the more complicated appropriate funding is one of the questions researchers face, according to Mireille van der Graaf, Welcome Europe's editorial manager.

"It is difficult to know where, when and what kind of funding is available for certain projects," she said. "We identified more than 400 programs, some of which are very similar, so it's not always easy to know which is the most appropriate."

International cooperation required

While requirements vary from project to project, the commission does lay down certain prerequisites before opening its purse strings. The research groups generally need to be made up of at least three different institutions from three different EU member states and must show their work will be beneficial to the union as a whole before they can take their check to the bank.

While Mochan stressed that national quotas are anathema to determining who receives funding, the current budget does take into account activities that would increase the role of women in research and stresses the importance of research in genomics and

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biotechnology for health; information society technologies; nanotechnologies and nanosciences; aeronautics and space; food safety; sustainable development; and economic and social sciences.

"The categories for the next framework program have also been kept broad because we do not want to rule out any excellent research," said Mochan. "We have to focus on commission priorities but do not want to handcuff ourselves to today's priorities for 2013."

Public-private partnership

Even if there aren't any hard rules as to what the EU is ready to support, van der Graaf said she has an idea of what the union "tends to encourage."

"The European Commission likes public-private partnerships," she added. "Also, since the enlargement it is well-seen to integrate new member states in projects."

The next five years may bring an increase in the security research, according to van der Graaf.

"Last year there was a new program for security issues," she said. "That could be a main research area for the future."

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