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Janez P otočnik
European Commissioner for Science and Research
Innovation: Building a Successful Future for Europe
Launch of BusinessEurope paper - European Research Policy and Programmes and their Relevance to Innovation
Brussels, 12 October 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
BusinessEurope has shown an excellent sense of timing with the publication of this new paper. It's an expression of the need to reinvigorate our research and innovation strategies. And it is timely, because EU research policy is approaching a crossroads.
The coming months will see the adoption of a European Innovation Plan, much discussion on the coming mid-term evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme and the future of Framework Programmes in general, a new Commission, and debate on the EU's future budgetary arrangements.
The paper underlines the need for a more integrated approach to research and innovation and to develop supply-side and demand-side policies in a complementary manner. It makes a forceful case for coherence between the "knowledge triangle" policies of research, education and innovation.
This coherency is necessary and we need to strengthen cooperation at a European level if we want to address the challenges that we are facing in today's dramatically changing world. A world that is more interconnected and more interdependent, a world that is facing challenges of climate change, security of energy, food and water supply, potential pandemics, aging societies, ..just to name a few. We need a strong Europe, a Europe in which all actors - politicians, industry, scientist and broader society work together to tackle these challenges. This is a new, additional Raison d'être for strengthening cooperation in the European Union, a Union that has brought us peace, stability, security and a promise of prosperity in the last 6 decades.
But we also need to consider the global economic crisis. It has taught us quiet dramatically how important sustainability is for us – not only sustainability of environment, food, energy and water supply – but also sustainability of profits and financial markets. And we need to find global solutions to these problems.
I firmly believe in the importance of knowledge, technology and innovation in dealing with these huge, societal challenges.
The BusinessEurope paper clearly recognizes the importance of research and knowledge. But we need to be better - we need to do more, with less. We need to make our European Research landscape more effective and that is why I appreciate the recommendation to develop an effective governance system for ERA, the European Research Area. ERA stands for the free movement of researchers, technology and knowledge, called the "Fifth Freedom", in recognition of its power to boost the European economy in much the same way as the free movement of people, capital, goods and services have done. This is a matter close to my heart, and to that of the Competitiveness Council. Under the Swedish Presidency, it has put two issues firmly at the top of the agenda:
It seems then that BusinessEurope knows where the pressure-points are with regard to European research and innovation.
And it would be fair to say that research policy is truly at a crossroads.
Despite some progress and a lot of effort, the overall European research effort seems to have levelled off at around 1.84% of EU GDP. Our latest data show that this average figure hides great differences. Despite a general effort from the less well-performing countries — mostly the new member states — to approach the 3% of GDP target, variations between countries remain significant. At the same time, US investment in the field stands at 2.61%, even though it is stagnating, and Japan's investment is at 3.2%. Then of course there is China and other developing countries — who are fast approaching these figures.
There have been many attempts to explain it. It seems, however, that the answer is pretty simple: it is largely the result of too low private investment. European high-tech industries do not play as big a part in our industrial structures as in those of for instance the US or Japan. The intensity of R&D investment within industrial sectors is also generally lower in Europe than, for example, in the US.
Investing in research is of course one way forward. And we continually call on European governments to do just that – in particular in times of crisis. And there are positive signs. A recent Commission's survey has shown, that in 2009, 23 of them are increasing or maintaining their public investment in research.
This is good news and endorses our calls to invest in research to counter the economic crisis, and to emerge stronger out of it. Historical evidence shows that keeping or even increasing R&D investments in times of crisis is the right thing to do – both for the public and for the private sector. Finland, Japan and the US are examples from the past – and also the iPod and fuel-efficient air-craft engines were developed in times of crisis. But of course, I realise that the situation can change if the pressure on public finance increases further in the next years.
To support public and private sector's efforts, we also need to actively create the framework conditions for research and innovation, the roadmap for which is laid out in the EU's Lisbon Strategy.
It's a tall order, but it is worth it. A properly functioning research and innovation ecosystem is something I've made a priority and I am not alone. Just look at the policies of the countries that are leading in the innovation stakes. For them, r esearch policy remains of fundamental importance, as the European Innovation Scoreboard demonstrates. For the 'innovation leaders' countries, the top three policy priorities are all related to research, and by this, I mean:
Against this, it seems to me, and this is echoed in your paper, that we have to 'supersize' our research policies. We need them to be bolder , better and bigger:
To respond to the call for bold ness, we have launched a new initiative to encourage large scale cooperation between Member States - "Joint Programming". It very much follows the concept of European Technology Platforms and brings together Member States to develop visions and strategic research agendas on how to tackle societal challenges in such areas as energy, health and ageing. Challenges that are beyond the scope of any one country to tackle effectively on its own. Member States, supported by the Commission, are in the process of discussing proposals and identifying the most mature and relevant ones. In the meantime, many countries are paving the way by preparing a pilot initiative on neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer's.
A number of initiatives have been taken to make our R&D policies and programmes better and more efficient:
We have concentrated funding into bigger, large scale programmes, in particular with a view of encouraging and leveraging private investment
These JTIs and PPPs could contribute to an industrial policy implemented at European level. Besides these direct research funding instruments, one could of course explore other ones such as public procurement of research and innovation – an instrument that has been used very successfully in the US.
I'm talking broadly of course, and scientific research as such is only part of the picture. Much more challenging is the question of how to create a genuinely European industrial and technology policy.
We have in recent years tried new ways of stimulating the demand side for innovations, because we know that Europe is not as good as it's competitors when it comes to the take-up and application of the technologies we invent. This is where the Lead Market Initiative, LMI, comes into play.
The Commission has assessed recent EU and national policies supporting innovation and by next Spring, it intends to come up with a 'European Act for Innovation'. This will propose policies for the medium to long-term and will be part of our exit strategy from the current crisis.
Ladies and gentleman:
I must admit that papers do not normally excite me! However, the one that BusinessEurope presented today is different… coming as it does at a time when research and innovation in Europe could head forward into a better-planned, more coordinated future, or find itself stalled in a dead end street.
BusinessEurope's report is therefore a very welcome intervention in the context of the preparation of the post-2010 EU policy strategy, the review of ERA governance, and the preparation of future EU innovation policy. It will help us all to improve our understanding of what a comprehensive research and innovation policy in Europe should look like.
Thank you for your attention.