Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
A European Research and Innovation Union
American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union
Brussels, 18 th February 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am most satisfied to be giving one of my first speeches as a European Commissioner to AmCham. US companies are by far the largest source of foreign direct investment for the European Union.
My job title covers research, innovation and science. I am glad that President Barroso decided to connect up these different areas. While science and research creates a pool of ideas, innovation policy must bring these ideas to the market. So, it makes sense to link them.
In fact, I am the first ever European Commissioner for innovation – a clear sign of its growing importance for our jobs and growth and our society. Since it cuts across many European Commission departments, I intend to work very closely with my colleagues to achieve a joined up approach.
I will be chairing a cross-cutting group of Commissioners on Innovation, with the task of producing a new political initiative by this summer. This will also cover innovation which is not directly related to research, such as new business models, designs and service or social innovation.
All of us here know of the importance of research and innovation. You all know that it is the key driver of growth in your companies. I am passionate about fostering an innovation culture in Europe because it can change people's lives and transform our society. For example, i t can deliver better treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer and diabetes. And it will help us to meet our growing energy needs in sustainable ways.
Most importantly, it is the key to a durable economic recovery and our only means of creating cleaner, greener and smarter jobs to replace those which have been lost.
That is why the recent EU leaders' summit made it clear that innovation will be a central plank of the European Union's economic policy over the next 5 to 10 years. The EU leaders have scheduled a special discussion on this specific matter at the Autumn Summit. And the Spanish Presidency has made it one of its key priorities too.
At the heart of our agenda will be the major societal challenges that we face, such as climate change, energy and food security and health care for an ageing population.
Our policy will take account of the impact of social networking technologies, which are making the innovation process much more open. And we must also understand how new technologies, such as cloud, mobile and collaborative computing, are revolutionising the relationships of firms with their customers, suppliers and competitors.
It will strengthen every link in the innovation chain: the generation of ideas, financing and the protection of intellectual property rights.
And of course, it can only succeed if there is maximum co-operation between the EU and the Member States. The old dichotomy of either Member States action or EU action must be replaced by co-ordinated and complementary actions.
My key priorities include the following issues:
First our research system. The basis for the innovation economy. The EU's Research Framework Programme for the period 2007-2013 is a vehicle for innovation in fields ranging from energy, transport and the environment to health and food. I plan to simplify its financial and administrative procedures so that it can be even more effective. And in collaborative research projects involving public and private sector partners, I want 15% of the funding to go to small and medium-sized businesses.
My predecessor, Janez Potočnik, made an excellent start in creating a single, unified research area in Europe, with the objective that researchers and knowledge can move freely across national borders. It is known as the European Research Area. I plan to better leverage the use of 86 bn euro of EU Structural Funds for research so that all Member States can participate in it fully. The completion of the European Research Area is one of my top political priorities.
That means bringing down the barriers to researcher mobility in Europe. I very much welcome the fact that the Spanish Government will hold a meeting in March, bringing together Ministers from the employment, social affairs and research areas, to move forward on this issue.
We must ensure excellence is at the heart of the EU Research Policy. The European Research Council is already shaking up the established order – awarding funding on the basis of merit alone – regardless of where proposals come from – and making funding available for 'blue sky' research which would probably not otherwise have been able to find funding.
The importance of this work cannot be over-stated. We can, and we will, be a world leader in a range of sciences, including nano-technology and bio-technology.
At the same time, we must put an end to the fragmentation of national research efforts and avoid duplication. I know of one case where 72 research centres were doing the exact same research on the exact same bacteria. This makes no sense! So, we are embarking on joint programming in areas relating to the major societal challenges which, as I said, are the focus of our policy. There was agreement on this in the Competitiveness Council on 16 December last.
We are also pooling our resources to finance large-scale research infrastructures. Support has recently been given to the extreme light infrastructures project which will operate in central Europe. This will provide the next generation of lasers.
And of course, some of these challenges are so big that no one continent can solve them alone. The United States of America is Europe's most important science and technology partner. It is the top third country partner in the Framework Programme, and we have strategic partnerships in specific areas, such as the "EC-US Task Force on Bio-technology." I am keen for these activities to be extended in the next 5 years. Staying open to the world is essential.
I want more of the 4,000 third level institutions in the EU to collaborate with industry, and to do so in an EU 27 context. Indeed, we must strengthen the links between all three sides of the knowledge triangle – higher education, business and research centres.
This is a top political priority for President Barroso. He has shown a deep personal commitment to promoting EU Policies in the areas of research, innovation and science. Indeed, his commitment to the entire research and innovation agenda is very strong.
Research, if properly managed, can lead to the development of novel goods and services that customers want. We can fast-forward this process by supporting public private partnerships. A number are already active in areas such as fuel cells and hydrogen, which can potentially replace petrol in cars and the next generation of aircraft. I am confident that more public private partnerships will be launched under my political mandate.
This brings me to my next point. Europe has a large and and excellent knowledge base. It is the largest producer of scientific publications. But we are not good enough at transforming our inventions into commercial successes.
For example, the MP3 standard for compressing audio data was invented in Europe, but commercialised in America – as was Apple's IPod.
This has to change. Europe is in fact nearly level pegging with the US in terms of the number of patents registered. Yet, the cost of patents in the EU is much higher than in the US. If we could change this, if we could deliver a large and harmonised single market for services, together with a European venture capital market, just imagine how much we could achieve.
That is why I spoke during my parliamentary hearing on January 13 th last of a 'Single Market for Innovation.' The idea is to identify the bottlenecks to innovation and then tackle them. I will work closely with my colleague, Internal Market Commissioner, Michel Barnier, on this specific issue.
I am also convinced that, in key areas connected with the major societal challenges, it will be necessary to launch specific initiatives aimed at solving particular problems.
I am thinking, for example, of the health sector, where innovation can lead to life-changing improvements for millions of our people, or the low carbon energy sector.
Once again, the aim will be to strengthen every link in the chain.
To boost research in Europe, we will mobilise both public and private sector resources, combining Member States and Community budgets effectively, and involve the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund
And to encourage the development of new markets, we will draw up packages of measures to tackle bottlenecks, including health and safety regulations to boost consumer confidence, rapid development of European standards or smarter, greener procurement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want Europe to be a vibrant innovation economy, a true 'Innovation Union', where companies, such as your organisations, will want to do business and invest. I fully recognise that we have strong global competition from China and India. It will be a tough battle. But it is one that I am prepared to fight, and which I believe that we can win, as long as we work together, and adapt to changing realities.
To win this battle, we have to work closely with you. I want to know what the needs of business are. That is why I am here today.
What I have set out for you is a first expression of my views. I would very much welcome direct feedback from you in the coming months as we develop our new Research and Innovation Initiatives.
I hope therefore that we can set up effective communication channels very soon.