The EFSA grant and procurement schemes are important tools for implementing the “Strategy on Co-operation and Networking” adopted by the Management Board in December 2006. With a view to the increasing workload as well as to address the complexity of the work while ensuring its high quality, the main objective of these schemes remains that competent organisations in Member States support EFSA in its scientific tasks.
In 2009, EFSA carried out a survey of EFSA staff and partner organisations having participated to grant and science procurement projects in the period 2007-2009. A synthesis report was published on the EFSA website in June 2010 which concluded with a set of recommendations towards improving the grant and procurement schemes.
This report reviews the progress made with regards to the above-mentioned recommendations. The assessment indicates that a number of actions have already been taken to address the recommendations from the evaluation report (e.g. introducing medium-term planning and developing two new IT tools), while others (e.g. automating the application procedure for grants, increasing EFSA financing and the maximum overheads rate) are currently under exploration. New experience gained in the implementation of the grant and procurement schemes and additional feedback received by the Member States and EFSA staff have provided valuable insights towards their further improvement.
Based on the above, the report provides suggestions for concrete follow-up actions towards further improving the implementation of the grant and procurement schemes.
EFSA Project No. P-2009-00011
The grant and procurement schemes are key tools of scientific cooperation through which Member State organisations support the scientific work of EFSA.
In view of their importance, EFSA carried out in 2009 an evaluation of the grant and procurement schemes based on a survey of partner organisations and EFSA staff, as well as on statistics available in EFSA. The evaluation, published in 2010, indicated that the grant and procurement schemes are complementary and have been effective in achieving their objectives; supporting EFSA`s scientific work and fostering the networking amongst the Member State competent organisations in line with Article 36 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation. The evaluation report also provided a set of six recommendations towards further improving the implementation of the two schemes.
To closely follow the implementation of the above-mentioned six recommendations, EFSA decided to assess the progress made already in the year following the publication of the evaluation report. The assessment is based on a compilation of the actions that have taken place or that are planned since the adoption of the report. The results indicate that a number of actions have already been taken to address the recommendations from the 2009 evaluation report, while others are currently under exploration. New experience gained in the implementation of the grant and procurement schemes and additional feedback received by the Member States and EFSA staff have provided valuable insights towards their further improvement.
With regard to the first recommendation, on better planning to address the needs and the available capacity, concrete actions were implemented in 2010, such as the setting of a minimum budget for grants at €60,000, increasing the use of multi-annual and framework contracts, and introducing medium-term planning. Further feedback by the Member State organisations has indicated that more actions are necessary to increase the cost-effectiveness of participating in grants. One possibility would be to increase the EFSA co-financing rate and the maximum overheads rate. In addition, EFSA could discuss with the European Commission Services the Implementing Regulation (EC) No 2230/2004 with a view to introducing more flexible financial instruments.
In addressing the second recommendation, on improving the application process, EFSA implemented the publication of a list of foreseen calls on its website and increased the time available for applicants to apply to EFSA calls. Nevertheless, it has been signalled at various occasions throughout 2010 that the period available for preparing an application is still considered short and has been a main factor for not being able to apply to EFSA calls for proposals. This is corroborated by the low number of applications received to EFSA calls for proposals. EFSA has also begun exploring the automation of the application procedure via the further development of its extranet workspace, which has been received positively by the Focal Points, and which would address to a large extent the suggestions for improvements raised by partner organisations and EFSA staff at the 2009 survey.
To improve the knowledge and attractiveness of the grant and procurement schemes, EFSA has been updating the guidance and training provided to applicants and EFSA staff. Also, feedback provided from training workshops that the Focal Points have organised for the Article 36 organisations indicates that these meetings are very useful and could significantly improve the participation of Member State organisations to EFSA projects.
As called for in the fourth recommendation, both EFSA and Article 36 organisations have actively used the recently developed IT tools towards further improving their networking. Indicatively, several ongoing Article 36 projects have set up their own workspace on the EFSA extranet, while the Article 36 Database has been effective in maintaining updated and functional the Article 36 list, as nearly 100 updates to Article 36 organisations (e.g. regarding contact details) have been processed using the Article 36 Database (July-December 2010) compared to 23 updates in the comparable period before the launch of this tool (January-June 2010). Specific training on the use of the two tools has been provided to Article 36 organisations at 3 national meetings organised by the Focal Points.
To consolidate the Article 36 list, EFSA with the support of the Focal Points processed 8 new designation proposals from five Member States in 2010 and initiated the harmonisation of the presentation of organisations on the list, by implementing editorial changes to 31 organisations. The experience gained so far in managing the Article 36 list, and the recent introduction of the Article 36 organisations database, have pointed out the need for the further development of guidance on the designation process and the management of the list in general. In addition, in view of further facilitating the designation of organisations by Member States and their subsequent evaluation by EFSA, EFSA is currently exploring the possibility to start a dialogue with the European Commission Services on the provisions of Commission Regulation (EC) No 2230/2004. Based on this, EFSA could develop further guidance on the interpretation and the application of the formal criteria for including organisations in the Article 36 list. This guidance would ensure the harmonisation of the Article 36 list and the fitness for purpose of its composition.
Finally, EFSA has anticipated the sixth and last recommendation on monitoring further progress, by carrying out an assessment of progress made already in the first year following the 2009 evaluation of the grant and procurement schemes. This review has been valuable in taking stock of progress made and in pointing out to further follow-up actions. In view of the above, the following actions are proposed:
- To further improve cost-effectiveness for Article 36 organisations in the grant scheme: to increase the minimum ceiling (maximum grant value) of grant calls from €60,000 to €100,000; to explore a possible increase in the maximum rate of EFSA co-funding from the current 80% to 90% and in the maximum rate of overheads (indirect costs) from the current 7% to 10%; to explore with the relevant European Commission Services the possibilities to finance tasks undertaken by competent Member State organisations under Article 36 via more flexible instruments.
- To improve the application rate to EFSA grants: to increase the time available for potential applicants to apply to calls for proposals to three months whenever possible, particularly when consortia are sought (time between the launch of calls and the deadlines for applications).
- To facilitate the application process and reduce the overall administrative burden for grants: to identify the documents that can be re-used, stored and submitted electronically by an applicant to EFSA calls for proposals; in view of managing the abovementioned documents, to create designated extranet folders for Article 36 organisations; to explore the possibility of creating extranet folders for interested applicants to open calls for proposals.
- To improve the overall implementation of grants: Focal Points to continue organising with the support of EFSA training sessions on grants for Article 36 organisations.
- To further streamline the Article 36 list: to develop guidelines on the designation process by the Member States and the overall “management” of the Article 36 list; to start a dialogue with the European Commission Services on the provisions of Commission Regulation (EC) No 2230/2004 in view of further developing guidance on the interpretation and the application of the formal criteria for including organisations in the Article 36 list.
- To continue monitoring progress.
 EFSA (2010). Evaluation of the EFSA grant and science procurement schemes.
 Commission Regulation (EC) No 2230/2004 of 23 December 2004 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 with regard to the network of organisations operating in the fields within the European Food Safety Authority’s mission, (OJ L 379, 24.12.2004, p. 64–67).