EU ministers agree plan to widen access to research

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BRUSSELS, Nov 23 (Reuters) European Union ministers adopted a plan today to make it easier for people to access scientific research and to help spread innovation more quickly across the 27-nation bloc.

Research ministers also approved four ''joint technology initiatives'' to carry out research in medicines, computing systems, nano-electronic technologies and aeronautics, due to be launched next year with billions of euros from the EU budget.

The plan is expected to raise concern among publishers of scientific journals, who fear losing revenue if research is made available free on the Internet -- but to be widely welcomed by librarians, researchers and funding bodies.

EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said publishers should not be concerned, but the benefits of digital technology should be used to the full.

''It's nobody's idea to destroy the publishing industry,'' Potocnik told a news conference.

European researchers publish 43 per cent of the world's research and scientific publishing houses in the EU employ 36,000 full-time staff and 10,000 freelancers.

Mariano Gago, science and technology minister for EU president Portugal, said many of the scientific journals were owned by not-for-profit scientific societies and federations.

''The question of open access is to be dealt with in parallel with the viability of scientific publishers,'' Gago said.

States will look at the way researchers exercise their copyright on scientific articles and how much it costs to disseminate research.

They will also examine tools such as refunding value added tax to libraries which take out digital journal subscriptions, and how to link national repositories of science data.

Potocnik expects strong backing from industry for the initiatives, in contrast to the failure of the Galileo satellite navigation system, another EU project, to attract private cash.

''It is a bottom-up initiative which is topped with public money and I don't see any kind of possibility of failure,'' he said.

EU ministers also backed efforts to deepen research into nanotechnologies.

Potocnik said they would help ensure that research in nanosciences would not be undermined by misunderstandings, such as concern about the invasion of privacy by tiny devices.

Reuters RSA RN2323

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