Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional
The Nordic Experience opening of the Gothenburg Ministerial
Mayor of Gothenburg, Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I am here with you this morning to open this important conference “Towards a Knowledge Society – the Nordic Experience”. In my words to you, I wish to share my ideas on how this can be more than just a Nordic Experience. I believe it can and must be a European-Union-of-27 experience. And I wish to show you how EU Structural Funds – and especially Regional Policy for which I am responsible – can help pave the way to making the Knowledge Society a reality for all.
I am particularly delighted that this Conference is taking place in Gothenburg. Why? Because since the Gothenburg summit in 2001, the city has been strongly associated in all our minds with the European Union’s strategy for growth and jobs, social cohesion and sustainable development. This is an elusive combination, and the whole world is looking to this part of Europe for ideas on how to achieve it. The knowledge society seems to have been a vital ingredient in your success.
Let me be straightforward. Developing and marketing new ideas is crucial for Europe’s prosperity.
We cannot rely on cheap labour or abundant supplies of natural resources. Yet we have found it difficult to live up to our aspirations for higher investment in research and development. We need to move beyond a situation where 25 per cent of R&D investments are made in just eight regions. More important, perhaps, we need to strengthen the links between research and innovation, and ensure that the fruits of innovation are spread throughout Europe.
A key challenge is to develop the right environment for the productive use of skills and innovative ideas. Europe already produces more maths, science and technology graduates per capita than the US. But in some regions, low employment rates, poor conditions for enterprise and other hindrances mean we are not making the most of our potential. The European Innovation Scoreboard shows that Europe lags behind the US in 9 out of 11 Innovation indicators – such as the number of patents, the share of the workforce with tertiary education, or business R&D expenditure.
The Nordic countries have been very successful at developing and marketing new ideas. They are near the top of league tables for both competitiveness and quality of life. This is why we chose together to “showcase” the Nordic experience, and we hope to draw some lessons from this over the next few days. In particular, what aspects of that experience are relevant to the Member States and acceding countries from central and eastern Europe, as they continue on the path to economic and social convergence?
Allow me to offer some general reflections. One of the key points seems to be that world-beating and innovative approaches need time, trust, and funding. On time, there has to be medium or long-term planning and stability. On trust, academics, researchers and business people need to work closely together – it has to be a habit and a reflex. On funding – the right conditions for private investment must be in place, and imaginative public funding can also play a vital role.
In my visits to EU-funded projects all over Europe, I have seen dozens of examples of business incubators, technology transfer networks, early stage financing funds and science parks to promote links between business and academia. In these areas, public investment is addressing market failures that inhibit innovation. Through partnership and stability, we can foster the spread of the knowledge society.
Minister Messing, I know you will expand on this, and I shall listen with interest to your notion of the “Triple Helix”. We shall see how this works here in Gothenburg, in particular in relation to the Knowledge Society. We shall visit Lindholmen Science Park, where you have turned the former shipyards into a place where professors and entrepreneurs create the future. We shall go to Sahlgrenska Academicum – Medical Hill – where the doctors and researchers are doing the same. They include Professor Arvid Carlsson, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Medicine, who speaks this afternoon.
What role can the EU Structural Funds play? I think they are already playing an extremely positive role, as you will see and hear from some of our other “showcase” guests from new Member States. Let me outline a few specific points.
First, the Funds can finance modern infrastructure. Of course, the success of the Nordic countries in broadband and mobile telecommunications is built on open and competitive markets. It is important to be clear that we are not in the business of funding networks that might be built anyway by the private sector. And respect for the principles of technological neutrality and open access are vital. Nevertheless, in some areas, there are genuine market failures, and the risk of a broadband digital divide must be addressed.
Secondly, as I mentioned before, we engage in a wide range of activities to support entrepreneurship and the development of innovative small and medium-sized firms. Activities like the promotion of industry-academia links, shared research facilities for SMEs, one-stop-shops to help turn ideas into commercial successes, and incubators for start-up enterprises – I find these to be among the best ways that the Structural Funds can promote sustainable growth and jobs in a region.
Thirdly, we invest substantial sums in education, training and life-long learning, in line with the Lisbon strategy objective to increase investment in human capital.
Last, though I could continue at some length, let me make special mention of inter-regional cooperation projects and partnerships under our new proposed Territorial Cooperation objective. This conference is all about exchange of experience at the international level, and I think there is enormous scope for sharing best practices at the regional level too, which we will continue to encourage.
So the role of the Structural Funds is substantial.
In the present period, we are already financing projects worth over 6 billion Euros in telecommunications and information society alone, and nearly 10 billion in research and innovation. And these account for only a small share of the initiatives I have just outlined.
For 2007 to 2013 programming, the knowledge society is a chief priority in the draft Community Strategic Guidelines, which the Commission put forward this summer as the framework for our Cohesion policy actions. The Strategic Guidelines have a dual function:
The Guidelines set out three main priorities, one of which is (and I quote): “encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and the growth of the knowledge economy by research and innovation capacities, including new information and communication technologies”.
Under this heading, our priorities are:
Activities in these domains therefore stand to receive a considerable boost in funding.
Let me give you a few concrete examples of EU-funded projects.
In south-east Ireland, the Funds are currently helping to overcome gaps in advanced telecommunications infrastructure, make the most of shared infrastructure, and drive demand for new services and activities. This is part of Ireland’s strategy to become one of the top 10 OECD countries in broadband penetration. By the end of 2006, all towns within the region with a population of 1,500 or larger will be served.
In 1997, trans-national cooperation under the INTERREG programme helped to establish a project called “Planning the Gateway” in the Austrian-Czech-Slovak-Hungarian border region. Still in existence today, this is a complete information system of all the initiatives that concern regional development and city and town planning in the Vienna-Brno-Bratislava-Györ area. The example illustrates that content provision from public authorities is an important part of our efforts to develop the knowledge society.
And earlier this year, I myself visited the ‘broadband village’ of Trångsviken, near Östersund, together with Ulrica Messing. We saw there the important role played by modern infrastructure and services in attracting and retaining entrepreneurial people in an area threatened by depopulation.
For many of you here today – Ministers and government officials – the management of the Structural Funds is your direct responsibility. And let me assure those of you from the academic or business worlds that we regard you as key stakeholders. I invite you all to join together during this conference to see how we can all make best use of the Structural Funds and the substantial public and private funding that they mobilise.
We want to move beyond a situation where research and innovation are mainly conducted in a few privileged regions. We need to create clusters – geographical or virtual – in which research can gather a critical mass, and researchers can share expensive facilities. We should encourage the emergence of growth and innovation poles, and not just in capital cities and regions. And, wherever innovation takes place, the benefits should spread to all regions.
These are challenging issues for future programmes. In responding, we will have to:
- intensify collaboration and take a wider view in policy-making;
- develop more ambitious and sophisticated strategies together;
- be results-oriented;
- forge better links between research and business; and
- make efficient use of the Structural and other EU funds to do all of the above.
Nor is it just a question of funding. This conference will also look at how e-government – in which we include e-education and e-health as well as e-administration – can change mindsets as well as providing better and cheaper services. In other words, government can lead the way in the manner in which things are done.
The end result should be – as mentioned in the Community Strategic Guidelines – an open and competitive digital economy with higher productivity, more jobs, and inclusive access to advanced infrastructure and services.
Above all, this Conference should lead us to concrete and simple conclusions – to points for action. We are meeting at a critical juncture, just before we move into the next Programming period for the Structural Funds. Especially for the newly acceded Member States, this is an unprecedented opportunity to transform regional economies in a lasting way, with enormous benefits both for individual regions and for the EU as a whole.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
We will never have a better opportunity than this to promote growth and jobs in Europe.
Before I close, let me remind you that the promising future I have tried to outline cannot be taken for granted. And one very practical obstacle we still face is the lack of agreement on the future of the EU’s financial perspectives. Without that, the activities I have outlined cannot begin. Indeed, the start of the new programmes is already liable to be delayed.
Of course, for the Member States who joined the EU only last year, this is a particular problem. Conferences like this one are enormously helpful in facilitating the programming process by generating contacts and ideas. But let me remind all Member States that, until the budget is agreed, programmes cannot be prepared with full certainty. And that means we are missing valuable opportunities to promote the knowledge society in all regions of the European Union.
I am convinced that we have the chance to do something really worthwhile. I am determined that we should make the best possible use of the Structural and other EU funds to promote growth and jobs in Europe. Building the foundations of a knowledge society and addressing Europe’s underperformance in research and innovation is at the core of this challenge. So let us make the most of this occasion, and let us seize the opportunity to create a Knowledge Society for all.
Many thanks for your interest and attention, and may you profit from this work!