The Seventh Framework Programme is carried out to pursue the general objectives described in Article 179 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (ex Article 163 TEC), to strengthen industrial competitiveness and to meet the research needs of other Union policies, thereby contributing to the creation of a knowledge-based society, building on a European Research Area (ERA) and complementing activities at a national and regional level [Decision 1982/2006]. The ERA concept combines: a European internal market for research, where researchers, technology and knowledge freely circulate; effective European-level coordination of national and regional research activities, programmes and policies; and initiatives implemented and funded at European level [COM/2007/161]. Following the informal meeting of competition ministers in Ljubljana on 15 April 2008, the Council agreed to launch the Ljubljana process of enhanced governance for full realisation of ERA, that should inter alia include the following features:
- free movement of knowledge that composes the 'fifth freedom';
- the development of globally competitive poles and networks of excellence; and
- the creation of favourable conditions for all actors in research and the private sector, including SMEs, to invest in research, exploit its results and have access to research infrastructures.
In line with the Lisbon strategy [see sections 13.3.2 and 17.1.3], the overriding aim of the Seventh Framework Programme is to contribute to the Union becoming the world's leading research area. Therefore, the Framework Programme is strongly focused on promoting and investing in world-class state-of-the-art research, based primarily upon the principle of excellence in research. In order to realise these objectives, the Seventh Framework Programme promotes four types of activities: transnational cooperation on policy-defined themes (the ''Cooperation'' programme) [see section 18.2.6], investigator-driven research based on the initiative of the research community (the ''Ideas'' programme) [see section 18.4.1], support for individual researchers (the ''People'' programme) [see section 18.4.1], and support for research capacities (the ''Capacities'' programme) [see section 18.4.2].
In order to help the development of SMEs in the knowledge society and the use of the economic potential of SMEs in an enlarged and better integrated European Union, SMEs, including small and micro enterprises as well as craft enterprises, are encouraged to participate in all areas and all instruments of the seventh framework programme. Actions for the benefit of SMEs include support of demonstration and other activities to facilitate the exploitation of research results, ensuring complementarity with the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme [see section 17.1.3]. Financial means are allocated through two schemes: (a) assistance to small groups of innovative SMEs to solve common or complementary technological problems; (b) assistance to SME associations and SME groupings to develop technical solutions to problems common to large numbers of SMEs.
The "Regions of Knowledge" initiative brings together regional actors involved in research, such as universities, research centres, industry, public authorities (regional councils or regional development agencies). This initiative comprises measures aiming at improving research networking and access to sources of research funding as well as better integration and linking of research actors and institutions in regional economies. These activities are implemented in close relationship with cn common regional policy (structural funds) [see section 12.3], the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme [see section 17.1.3] and the education and training programmes [see section 13.4.2].