Although the challenges faced by the European nations change over time, and with them the scientific and technical research priorities, certain immutable reasons militate in favour of a common approach to research problems. The common research policy must define the economic, social, political and even military objectives of research, draw up an inventory of the resources available in terms of human resources, laboratories and funds, set the priorities and apportion the work among the laboratories of the Member States. In this way it can be ensured that no important sector is neglected, that duplication is avoided and that the Union's human, material and financial resources are put to best use. Labour distribution can also ensure that Europe's smallest countries, which would otherwise be excluded owing to a lack of resources, can participate in research and development.
Europe is experiencing a massive transformation of its economy and society. Traditional industrial structures are undergoing rapid change. The problems that are observed in the structures of the traditional European industries, like textiles, shipbuilding and steel, are notably the results of the movement of production to countries with low wage levels induced by the globalisation of markets and economies [see sections 17.1 and 17.3]. The transfer of European traditional industrial production to other countries can be offset only by new industries with a high level of technology.
Europe's industrial competitiveness, its jobs, its quality of life and the sustainability of growth depend on it being at the leading edge of the development and utilisation of information society technologies. Advances in information processing and communications are opening up exciting new possibilities [see sections 17.3.5 and 17.3.6]. However, the increasing diversity and complexity of systems is also presenting new challenges for their development and use. Continuous efforts are required, in research, technological development and demonstration to tackle the universal issues such as access, ease of use, cost-effectiveness and interoperability and standardisation. They should also address the social changes brought about by the introduction and more widespread use of new information and communications technologies.
Innovation requires constant and organised interdependence between the upstream phases linked to technology, and the downstream phases linked to the market, such as the development of new business concepts, new means of distribution, marketing or design. This means that, in order to have industrially efficient innovation, the needs of the market should be taken into account, particularly by modernising the approaches and practices of marketing, and synergies in research and technological development (R & D) should be facilitated by trans-European cooperation. These considerations are particularly pertinent for SMEs, which are innovative by their nature, but which do not exploit efficiently their R & D potential because of their structural and financial handicaps [see section 17.1.4].
Society is making increasing demands for better living conditions, better safety, and better use of scarce resources including secure and economic energy supplies and services. Availability of a sufficient and economic energy supply must be assured to promote industrial competitiveness and to maintain the quality of life for Europe's citizens [see section 19.1]. At the same time, the environmental impact of energy production and use must be reduced. Indeed, rising population and per-capita use of resources, globalisation of economic markets and natural variability in earth systems are causing or exacerbating major environmental problems [see section 16.3]. R & D in the fields of energy, environment and sustainable development is essential for the social well-being of Europe's citizens and the implementation of policies formulated at European level or deriving from international environmental commitments - in particular, the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol [see section 16.3.4].
The promotion of scientific and technological excellence is an essential prerequisite for Europe to succeed in the competitive environment of international research and scientific development. Access to major research infrastructures, in particular, is indispensable for researchers working at the forefront of science. The ability of European research teams to remain competitive with teams elsewhere in the world depends on their being supported by state-of-the-art infrastructures. As most of the major research infrastructures in Europe are operated by national authorities, principally for the benefit of their national researchers, access to these infrastructures is often restricted largely or even entirely to national research teams. The result is that researchers do not always have the opportunity to access the infrastructures most appropriate for their work. European R & D should therefore make available major research infrastructures in all Member States to competent multinational teams of researchers.
European research would be poorly exploited without coordination and without common measures for the dissemination of the knowledge acquired. A wealth of accumulated knowledge in documents and prototypes and an industry capable of exploiting it are not, in fact, sufficient to ensure that such knowledge makes the transition to the industrial production stages. First, there needs to be a wide dissemination of that knowledge throughout the Member States to those capable of exploiting it. Moreover, with the inflow of knowledge, recourse to the traditional methods of collating and classifying scientific information is no longer sufficient; ever-greater use of information processing and international networks and databanks are needed. In fact, knowledge obtained from European R & D is disseminated and optimised both in the framework of the specific R & D programmes and by centralised action of the horizontal programme on promotion of innovation and encouragement of SME participation [Decision 1999/172].
In a period of increasing social challenges, such as unacceptable levels of unemployment, an ageing population, the globalisation of economies, an increase in inequalities and social exclusion, Europe has set as an objective its economic and social cohesion. The common research policy has to pursue this objective as well. Furthermore, the process of European integration itself has given rise to a new object of study, European society, which is different from the sum of its components, although clearly dependent on them. Social sciences must therefore be in a position to respond to these challenges, overcome national boundaries, through reinforcing cooperation between them and enhancing their analytical capacity and thereby supporting policy-making. European R & D may build-up European strengths in fields associated with further economic growth and quality of life.