Brussels, 24 June 2008
"Aho Report" on EU High-Tech Research: A
Wake-up Call for Innovation in Europe, says Commissioner
Europe has started doing better in high-tech
research but still has a lot more to do, particularly to capitalise on the
results. This is the conclusion of the independent expert report, chaired by
former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, that analysed the effectiveness of
Information Society research under the EU's 6th Framework Programme for Research
and Development. Although Europe has considerably improved its high-tech
research, with the European Commission taking the lead in boosting Micro
and Nano-Electronic (IP/08/284)
research, it now needs to move up a gear to bridge the innovation gap with other
parts of the world.
The EU has invested over €4 billion in Information Society research
between 2003 and 2006, complementing the €100 billion invested by Member
States and private companies. While implementing a new research programme that will run
until 2013, the Commission has requested an independent panel of experts,
chaired by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, to explore how the
effectiveness of the EU's research spending could be improved in order to
strengthen Europe's competitiveness.
Esko Aho today handed the independent panel's final report over to Viviane
Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.
"In recent years Europe's Information Society research has delivered
encouraging results from mobile communications to Electronic Stability Control
systems in motor cars. However, I believe a systemic change in the EU's research
policy is needed to avoid that EU research spending is not more than a mere drop
in the ocean," said Esko Aho, chairman of the expert panel. "I
call on the EU Member States and on the European Parliament to equip the EU with
the right, flexible tools to better focus European high-tech research and to
open it up to more risk and to new international partners."
"The Aho Report should be a wake-up call for all policy makers responsible
for economic policy, research and budgetary rules," said Information Society
Commissioner Viviane Reding in a first reaction to the report. "The €4
billion spent on high-tech research is a considerable amount of taxpayer's
money. However, Europe does not get the most out of it in terms of growth, jobs
and innovation. The Aho Report has rightly concluded that the effectiveness of
Europe's high-tech research is too often stifled by red tape, a lack of venture
capital and a risk-averse mentality in both national and European
administrations. I thank Esko Aho and his distinguished panel for having used
plain English to highlight these shortcomings."
As regards the required follow-up to the Aho Report, Commissioner Reding
concluded: "The consequences to be drawn from the Aho Report will have to be
discussed intensely by the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and
also the European Commission itself as a matter of priority under the
forthcoming French Presidency. In this debate, nothing should be a taboo. I will
not be satisfied by empty promises when what we need is a strong shared will to
reform the system of EU research. One measure for the Commission to explore is
to centralise and focus EU research in one department. We should also better
exploit public-private partnerships allowing for more flexibility under the EU's
rules. I will address these issues in a Communication to the European Parliament
and the Council in autumn this year. European competitiveness within a rapidly
changing world economy is at stake, so we have no time to lose."
The "Aho Panel" included the following independent experts:
- Mr. Esko Aho (Chairman) - former Prime Minister of Finland and
President of the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development (Sitra)
- Mr. Michel Cosnard - Professor at the Polytechnic School of the
University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Chairman and CEO of INRIA (Institut
National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique)
- Mr. Hans-Olaf Henkel - Professor at the University of Mannheim and
former CEO of IBM Europe, Middle East and Africa as well as former President of
the Federation of German Industries
- Mr. Luc Soete - Director of UNU-MERIT (the United Nations University
– Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on
Innovation and Technology)
- Mrs. Nicoletta Stame - Professor, Social Policy, University of Rome
“La Sapienza” and Co-founder and first president of AIV (Italian
- Mr. Pavel Telička –
former EU Commissioner (Health and Consumer Protection), Cofounder of BXL
Consulting and Senior Advisor, European Policy Centre.
The full text of the "Aho Report" on the Effectiveness of Information
Society Research in the EU's 6th Framework Programme 2003-2006 is available
The 23 Recommendations of the "Aho Report":
1. It is recommended that efforts are made to continue to consolidate
public-private partnerships of a more permanent nature, such as Joint
Technology Initiatives (JTIs) from the 7th Framework Programme.
2. It is recommended to continue the effort to ensure that support for
SMEs and for large firms is not “compartmentalised” into
different measures or tools.
3. A platform should be created within the scope of the 7th
Framework Programme for new and high-growth companies to meet venture capital
4. Encourage participation from outside Europe in all projects.
Participation from both developing and industrialised non-European countries
should be promoted.
5. Internationalise the advisory system – e.g. the IST Advisory
Group – by including top scientists and engineers from around the
6. Reflect the latest international developments and challenges in the
work programme. A more flexible approach may be needed to integrate new,
interesting developments in the field faster.
7. Focus the research effort on creating and sustaining world
leadership where Europe already has a comparative advantage and where Europe has
a new opportunity to take the lead. Europe should be selective and not attempt
to become a world leader in every area
8. The eInfrastructures approach should be expanded to more
application-oriented and user-oriented platforms in other sectors.
9. The Panel recommends that accounting control in JTIs is carried
out by Member States and participating companies, with a minimum of intervention
at the Community level.
- The Panel strongly recommends developing a more trust-based approach
towards participants at all stages. The existence of a few
unfortunate examples should not be allowed to stand in the way of
innovation. Specific elements in the development of such an approach are
- To require shorter proposals with fewer details of work packages and
a focus on the appropriateness of partnerships in particular the inclusion of
highly innovative participants.
- That more complete and helpful feedback is made available to
proposers whose ideas are not funded.
- To test a new approach whereby proposals are not fully evaluated
initially. All applications passing a few basic checks should be
given a small amount of "seed funding" for an exploratory phase. After
this, exploratory projects with successful results would be selected for
full project funding.
- Financing projects based on actual performance rather than promises and
reputation could both reduce the initial paperwork and be a viable way of
attracting innovative (small) companies which would not otherwise consider
applying for Community funding.
- To explore expanding the two-step evaluation procedure from the Open part
of the "future and emerging technology" area to other parts of the programme
– prospective participants first provide a broad outline of
their project idea, and only provide a more refined plan once they are
selected. This may increase the workload for the Commission in the early phases,
and lengthen the evaluation process, but it will significantly reduce the burden
on the research community of preparing proposals.
- To optimise reporting, which is time-consuming and may be untimely,
and allow the participants to report when there is something to report.
- To allow the refocusing of the research on different priorities if
this becomes necessary during implementation.
- Similarly, to allow more flexibility in the composition of partnerships
during the project, including the possibility of changing partners if
the research takes a direction which would benefit from new partners or
replacement of partners.
- The Panel recommends a more strategic use of standardisation to
create new EU-wide markets. Standard-setting is needed as a tool for pulling
through innovations and creating viable markets for new products and
- The Panel welcomes the recent Commission Communication on pre-commercial
procurement, and recommends that new initiatives are taken to allow public
authorities to procure the development of innovative goods and services.
- The European single market needs to be made more effective for
business angels and venture capitalists, and European investment funds need to
be more effectively utilised to pull through innovations from the Framework
- A more strategic approach to standardisation at the European level,
when this cannot be left to market forces, focused on
interoperability and development of standards where there is a
well-documented need for coherent innovative services and European
leadership, will be in the broader public interest.
- The interconnection of large regional and national
eInfrastructures should be further developed. EU-wide platforms
and infrastructures are needed in sectors such as eGovernment
(especially procurement), eHealth (cross-border applications),
logistics and transport. Framework RTD should be complemented by other
measures, in particular public procurement at both national and European