December 14, 2011
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) have the ability to take information, skew it with politically-biased invective, and deliver a fiction with such hostility and rudeness that only those with the thickest of skins would dare to stand up to them. Most in Brussels put their heads down and wait for this pack of wolves to move on and bully some other organisation. But sometimes they stray so far from truth and reality that even the Risk-Monger can’t keep quiet. Such is the case with their fabrication about FP7 funding and industry involvement. I won’t go so far as to say CEO are lying on every line, but their political bias has forced issues very far from what European research is actually doing.
This month they published a report entitled EU research funding: for who’s (sic) benefit? (Note that I have a backup copy if their link suddenly goes dead like the last time the Risk-Monger did a blog about CEO). As a report, it is amateur, myopic, predictably biased and narrow-minded. That the person who wrote it cannot spell (even in the report’s title) shows how little professional care or research went into their latest political tirade. That CEO is still able to exist today is, quite frankly, a mystery.
Numbers matter if you do research
CEO is pretending to call itself a research organisation (which is better than the short period in 2009 when they considered their staffers as “journalists”). But research should be objective and not politically biased. One way to check bias is to examine how an organisation treats numbers. At the beginning of their report, CEO state:
During 2012, FP7 grants will make up about 8 percent of public money available to researchers in the EU. Most of the FP7 budget goes to universities and research institutes. However, about one quarter to one third of participants are private sector companies.
Notice how they manipulate numbers and compare apples to oranges to make things sound frightening. First they are looking at future projected grants so there is no objective basis for their “number-jumbering”. Their baseline, 8% of public funding, has been inflated. If EU funded research were compared to total research funding, including industry research, then we would be talking about a much smaller percentage. They admit that most of the research funding (in euro value) goes to universities and research centres and CEO speaks nothing more on this. Then CEO switches from euro value to participant value to come up with a non-referenced guess of between 25% to 33% of the participants being from the private sector. This is misleading for two reasons: many participants are individuals acting in consortia for societal control purposes (external auditors, ethics advisers, communications and societal outreach …) with very small budgets and playing quite positive roles. The euro value of EU funding for the private sector is much, much smaller. Secondly, the Commission has been actively engaging SMEs to participate more in research. This has been a challenge for European research as SMEs are the drivers of new technologies, innovation and job creation. Is CEO, in their twisted world view, considering this to be a bad thing?
This is a first indication on how CEO is not a serious research organisation. But when their bias enters, the number manipulation gets even worse:
ArcelorMittal companies are involved in five FP7 projects at this point, securing a total public subsidy of €14 million.
CEO would like you to believe that ArcelorMittal, a company they have produced a lot of venom towards, is happily coming to Brussels to pick up a very large cheque, a free lunch and doing nothing for it. It is also misleading and wrong! The only fact is that ArcelorMittal is, perhaps, involved in five projects (running, perhaps, concomitantly over five years). It must be noted that they are members of consortia that may involve 10 to 15 other partners, most from universities and research centres, some SMEs and some civil society and public engagement organisations. These five consortia together would be receiving the funding, and not just ArcelorMittal. Given the demands on time, it would be unlikely for ArcelorMittal to be project coordinator in any of the five projects and their involvement will most likely involve providing access to their research and technological infrastructure (any industry’s strong point in consortium research). So let’s assume ArcelorMittal got around a million euros for their involvement for all five involvements. As a large company they could only avail of public funding for up to half of their expenses (sadly I didn’t find any reference to this in CEO’s vindictive report). So it comes down to 500K for five projects, or less than a salary of one ArcelorMittal researcher per project for only one year (not even enough to manage the bureaucratic red tape for the funds). Hardly the great song and dance CEO would like to have you believe.
These numbers are available on the project websites, all transparent and accessible. So why didn’t CEO report that and why did they prefer to have you believe that ArcelorMittal pocketed 14 million of our money without doing anything? Because giving you the real numbers would be objective, transparent and responsible, and CEO has made it clear that is not in their interest. Shame on CEO!
Cross-fertilisation does not stink
The problem is just the opposite of CEO’s concern. Companies do not find it interesting enough for them to be involved in Framework Programme projects. As companies have their own research mechanisms, a group like ArcelorMittal would have to see other advantages to being involved in research programmes (networking, shared expenses and cross-fertilisation). There need to be greater incentives for companies to be involved, because at the moment, FP participation is often considered by them to be a public service. Companies bring a large skill-set to the table to work with university research assistants or independent researchers so it is not surprising that large companies, do not often continue to participate in follow-up consortia.
The role of industry is vital to the success of the Framework Programme. Research funding is limited and needs to be developed into innovations in order to produce greater funds for more research. Companies make profits (sorry CEO, this is a fact of life) and from that pump more money into research to generate further innovations. If public money can help by strategically guiding research in certain areas important to society, then industrial partners are needed to ensure that the future research can be self-sustaining on the basis of innovations developed and marketed. If funding mechanisms can encourage networking and a cross-fertilisation of knowledge, leading to better research development, then we need industry to not only be part of the process, but to be leading it. At the moment, sadly, they are not, and CEO’s narrow-minded ambition seems to be to further weaken EU research. The Risk-Monger has seen too many SMEs led by professors die early deaths due to poor management and shallow resources.
European Technology Platforms
The best way for governments to play a role in shaping research strategy to be in line with public concerns is through consultation. This was the motivation behind the creation of the European Technology Platforms or ETPs (following from the White Paper on Governance). The ETPs create a means to consult with a variety of stakeholders and multi-disciplinary experts to examine the way forward for future research strategies and priorities.
CEO chose not to research the role ETPs play in the open, consultation process. Rather, they tried to mislead the readers that EU research funding is being given to the ETPs. This is a fiction that, no matter how many times CEO repeats it, is still false.
As well, CEO ignored the leadership role ETPs can play in research communities outside of public research funding, choosing instead to reinforce their myopic view by pasting ETPs as extensions of industry lobbying arms. This is not only narrow-minded and biased, it is also capitulation. The original goal of ETPs was to bring together all stakeholders (from industry, research, government and civil society) to share views and help define priorities for research and society. Because many NGOs abandoned the process (as no funding is involved), does not mean it is industry using it as a lobbying tool.
Even more incredible is the biased way CEO reported ETPs. There are 36 platforms, and CEO focused on chemistry, food industry, biofuels and carbon capture – all fields of research they have criticised in the past. Why didn’t they focus, for example, on ETPs on photovoltaics, wind and the smart grid? Perhaps such a view of ETPs would not fit with CEO’s political bias if we learn that NGOs are actually participating with them.
From all of this, it is clear that CEO is not a research organisation – they are a political lobbyist organisation (with even a bigger stink given their conflictual relationship with facts!) and they should wake up from their illusive dreaming and learn to be responsible.
The funding process
Even more juvenile and unprofessional is CEO’s attack on the FP7 funding decision process, which they describe as:
… a structure within the Commission which means that policy (sic) officers manage research contracts, and prefer to deal with a smaller number of stable contracts involving people that they know.
Once again, CEO has reverted to their old practice of standing outside of offices and barking at them without knowledge of the world inside. Commission Project Officers (not policy officers) do not select the organisations for funding. This decision is made by a panel of independent experts chosen by their specialisation from a large database on Cordis. It is a long, laborious process with a series of checks and balances that ensures objectivity and transparency. The Commission call managers try to ensure a wide stakeholder mix to evaluate each proposal (first individually and then in a consensus meeting). Most experts are academics, some from civil society, but very few expert evaluators come from the private sector. Reason? The expert day rate the Commission pays is lower than corporate salaries or consultancy fees. Maybe CEO should do some research on the Cordis website about the FP7 evaluation process before they make ridiculous ethical charges against public officials. And just because public officials may be disinclined to stand up to a pack of wolves to defend themselves, this does not mean that CEO can go around making false accusations.
CEO identifies a number of Israeli companies involved in the FP7 Security calls, and tries to shame the EU for funding so many “non-EU” researchers. This is pointless and rather juvenile. In Taiwan, they have a concept of being a “fast follower” – to take technologies developed by other research organisations and quickly follow onto the market while margins are still high. In the case of defence and security research, Israelis are the leaders and European researchers are fast followers. In other words, we are benefiting from technological advances and resource investments made years ago in Israel. I am sure there is much debate in Tel Aviv about whether Europeans should be allowed to benefit from the knowledge sharing they had invested so much in over the past decades.
Let’s cut to the chase here. Last year the Risk-Monger exposed CEO for getting more than half of its funding from the Isvara Foundation – a shady, non-transparent Middle Eastern organisation whose main objective is to interfere with western liberal democracies (and the European Commission). I wonder how the Isvara sugar-daddies would feel to see CEO attacking the European Commission for funding Israeli security researchers. Probably all warm and fuzzy … and just in time for CEO’s 2012 funding renewal discussions.
With a wink and a smile, the Risk-Monger would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Except, that is, for the people of Corporate Europe Observatory, whom I understand will be wintering on snowy Mount Crumpit.David Zaruk