In 1970, the Belgian Government took the initiative to fund the first scientific research programme on the North Sea called "Project Sea" as part of the "Environment/Water" research programme.
To date, six successive phases have been implemented and a seventh phase has recently started.
The overall objectives of the North Sea programme are set out as follows:
Call for research proposals, which are open to universities and public research institutions and, in some cases, for specialized consultancy offices, are issued regularly. Proposals are selected on the grounds of a scientific assessment carried out by foreign experts in accordance with the "peer review" method.
Funding, management, coordination and development of the programme are in the hands of the Belgian Science Policy.
Since 1997 two kinds of multi-annual projects are financed:
The Strategic research actions:
To explore the complex nature of the phenomena which govern and influence the marine environment, longer term and more basic research is essential. Basic knowledge which permits comprehension of the various phenomena occurring in the environment of the North Sea is, at present, still not adequate, given their complex and interdisciplinary nature. Strategic scientific research would on the one hand help to reinforce and to optimally use the scientific expertise already available and, on the other hand facilitate the creation of new centres of expertise. To that end, the programme aims to bring scientific teams together to work in multidisciplinary networks on projects in chosen subject areas, with the common goal of establishing a solid basis on which the Federal authorities can base implementation of long term policies for the sustainable exploitation of the North Sea and its natural resources.
The duration of strategic research projects is 4 years.
Targeted research actions:
Targeted research actions are the most appropriate way of enabling the authorities to formulate an answer quickly enough, based on scientific data, to urgent questions of national and international policy regarding their tasks in monitoring the North Sea and its natural resources. This involves research which is restricted in scope, short term and primarily applied in character. The research can have to do with biological, physical and chemical aspects and socioeconomic and legal issues. The themes to be dealt with in priority are defined in consultation with the departments of the federal and federated entities concerned.
This kind of research does not exceed 2 years.
Since 2002, each research project, consisting of a network of funded partners, is enlarged with a user-committee. These non-funded partners in the project include relevant international, European, federal, and regional official bodies, scientific experts, NGO’s… They collaborate actively to the project by making data and information available and/or supply an advisory opinion regarding the ongoing research.
Also since 2002, the Belgian researchers within the North Sea programme have the possibility of cooperating with an international university or research institution within their project on the basis of a co-financing.