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Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Bioeconomy for a better life

Conference The Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy Towards 2020

Brussels, 14th September 2010

Vice-Minister Lieten,

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to open the plenary session of this conference on The Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy Towards 2020, with such a distinguished assembly of scientists, policy makers and representatives from industry and civil society organisations from Europe and further afield.

I would particularly like to thank Vice Minister Lieten and the Belgian Presidency of the EU for organising this conference in cooperation with the European Commission. And let me also thank the Members of the European Parliament who are here today for your continuing interest in and support for our vision of the European Bio-Economy.

What do we mean by the European “Bio-Economy”? Well, technically speaking, the Bio-Economy is “that part of the economy that generates growth and jobs from the development, processing and use of biological resources in an environmentally sustainable manner".

But here’s an alternative definition, which I think says so much more:

“Worth nearly two Trillion Euro, the European Bio-Economy provides around 22 million jobs in Europe, across sectors as diverse as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, chemicals, and biofuels.”

This is the impressive reality of the European Bio-economy. It is an indispensable part of all of our lives and plays a major role in making our lives better. Stakeholders in the Bio-Economy are hard at work providing new knowledge and innovation, fuelling economic growth and generating and sustaining employment.

The Europe 2020 Strategy tabled by the European Commission in March this year is an ambitious, transformational agenda, designed to turn Europe into a smart, sustainable and socially-inclusive market economy. It will help Europe out of the recent economic crisis, so that through innovation we can build long-term sustainable growth to guarantee an economically stable future. These are ambitious and far reaching objectives, but necessary ones. They are objectives that we cannot afford to miss, and the Bio-Economy plays an important role in delivering these objectives.

By its very nature, as a relatively new part of the European economy, and capitalising on cutting edge research and new technologies, the Bio-Economy has been at the forefront of innovation. And there it must stay, because innovation is the biggest game in town. And it is the role of innovation that I want to emphasise today – what it means for the Bio-Economy, what it means for the European Union and what it means for each and every one of us.

One of the most important tools to achieving the ambitions of the Europe 2020 Strategy will be the upcoming Innovation Union Flagship. It will propose a raft of bold actions, to make Europe a true Innovation Union. It will require great commitment and great effort from all the relevant actors across Europe. It will underline the importance of innovation as a means of regaining and improving our competitiveness in the rapidly-changing global economy.

The Innovation Union will use all relevant resources and policy instruments at its disposal, at local, regional, national and European levels, across all relevant policy areas and sectors.

The Innovation Union Flagship will reflect a broad and inclusive view of innovation, to include innovation in business models, management structures and processes; innovation in how the public sector delivers services, as well as innovation in design and marketing.

The Bio-Economy goes beyond technological innovation to present new opportunities for social innovation and improving lives for all, for example, by offering coastal and rural communities possibilities to diversify their activities. It offers products that make our lives healthier, safer and easier. And some of these products – such as plastics and household cleaning products that are biodegradable and compostable - are showcased today in the “Bio-economy Bazaar” which takes place just outside.

The Innovation Union Flagship will be ambitious. Europe needs to become more competitive, and we need to be more innovative to tackle not just economic and industrial challenges but also the other challenges faced by our society now and in the coming decades.

I am talking about the issues that really matter to people, and which will affect the quality of their lives, such as fighting climate change; using scarce resources more wisely and efficiently; and healthy living for the growing number of older people in Europe. In an age of austerity, it is right to focus on the issues that citizens care about most. So, we intend to launch a small number of targeted Innovation Partnerships in areas where clear and measurable goals can be defined and with a direct link to a societal challenge. For example, the goal of adding additional healthy years to the lives of older people.

These Partnerships will provide a framework for pooling resources and bringing together key actors and relevant policies and instruments; simultaneously unblocking bottlenecks and building bridges. They will not be a brand-new instrument as such; rather they will weave together in a new way the many existing instruments already in play.

We must ensure that research and innovation have the critical mass of resources needed to make a significant impact on the societal challenges. I am determined to ensure that the Framework Programme will continue to provide the much-needed investment in research from which innovation can flow.

The Commission is also exploring how different sources of funding, such as the Structural Funds, can be oriented towards supporting Innovation in Europe. Indeed, addressing societal challenges while capitalising on economic opportunities is at the core of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The market potential for European industry will influence the choice of the Innovation Partnerships.

I like to think of the Innovation Partnerships as a fast track for innovation – speeding up breakthroughs and making sure these are more cleverly and rapidly deployed. I see them as a great opportunity to simplify our actions and focus them on our priorities – the big societal challenges.

The Bio-Economy has a key role in promoting innovation that addresses major societal challenges such as pressure on our natural resources - including land, fossil fuels and fish stocks. Innovation in the Bio-Economy can help us tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting the agricultural sector accordingly. We need a vibrant, innovative Bio-Economy to ensure a safe, affordable and healthy food supply.

And how else does the Bio-Economy reflect the objectives of the Innovation Union? The Bio-economy is multidisciplinary in nature and it pushes us to be interdisciplinary in our approach and to overcome the segmentation of research and innovation into narrow themes. It is therefore well placed to show how we can work together to build an Innovation Union where we avoid duplication of efforts and tackle the fragmentation that undermines the efficiency of European research. The Innovation Union will champion cross-sectoral and cross-thematic innovative approaches, because the answers to our economic problems and societal challenges will not be found in one single discipline. We need a wide range of actors from different sectors to pull together. We need innovation from many sources.

The Bio-Economy also has great potential for better integration of societal challenges in our research agendas, for reinforced links between science and industry and a greater coherence between our various policies and funding instruments. All these issues will be addressed in the upcoming Innovation Union Flagship.

The Bio-Economy can do much to achieve our goal of an Innovation Union. But what can we, at the European level, do for the Bio-Economy?

The idea of tying the various sectors of the Bio-Economy into a common policy framework at the European level was born around five years ago. The UK and German Presidencies gave it their blessing at the time and a special theme for the Bio-Economy was created in the 7th Framework Programme, dedicating nearly 2 billion Euro to Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnology research. The Bio-Economy also connects to a wide range of interfacing European policies, including the EU's policies on Climate and Energy, Fisheries and Maritime affairs, the Common Agricultural Policy and European Enterprise policies. I am committed to exploring with my fellow Commissioners how to strengthen links between the research and innovation component of the Bio-Economy and these important EU policies.

At European level, we are in tune with Member States, several of whom are developing national strategies and action plans to support the Bio-Economy. For example, Denmark has recently produced an Agreement on Green Growth. The Netherlands has launched an agenda for the creation of an interdepartmental programme on the bio-based economy from 2010 to 2015. In Germany, recommendations were recently made for research into the Bio-Economy, calling for a multi-disciplinary approach and seeking out partnerships across different sectors and policy domains.

There is also growing interest in the concept of the Bio-Economy at global level. And we need to work together with our international partners to find global solutions to the global challenges we face. We have established close ties with India, China and Russia, to name but a few. There is close cooperation with the US in the framework of EC-US Task Force on Biotechnology Research, which celebrated its 20h anniversary this year. And we expect to extend cooperation with the US in the area of the Bio-Economy and bio-based products in the framework of the Transatlantic Economic Cooperation Initiative. And I am pleased to highlight the launch tomorrow of a new initiative - the International Bio-Economy Forum - between the Commission and Australia, Canada and New Zealand, to foster collaboration and joint actions to promote innovation in the Bio-Economy.

Today, Europe has a strong life sciences and biotechnology research base to support the development of a sustainable and smart Bio-Economy. It has a leading position in chemical and enzyme industries and a fast growing biotechnologies sector. However, a lot of work still needs to be done in order to fully exploit the potential of the sector today and ensure that Europe remains competitive tomorrow.

We need to be quicker and more ambitious in deploying research results and new technologies in the markets for industrial and social innovation, and for addressing societal challenges.

Supply-side and demand-side policy actions at European and Member State level are often launched in isolation and without the proper engagement of end-users. In addition, certain technologies may cause public misgivings, which may limit the potential in Europe if these cannot be properly addressed. We will not unleash the full potential of the Bio-Economy in Europe without a reinforced framework that brings together different scientific disciplines, policy areas and stakeholders. And the full engagement of citizens is essential to ensure a smooth transition to an economy that is driven by "the bio-revolution".

As a result, and in line with Europe 2020, the time is right to launch a European strategy on the development of a bio-economy. What do we want to achieve with a Bio-Economy strategy and what could be the impacts?

The Bio-Economy strategy will aim to reinforce European leadership in the biosciences. Developing the relevant technologies will require investment in the knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation to ensure that Europe has the skills it needs to maintain and increase jobs in the Bio-Economy.

To fully exploit the knowledge developed, to accelerate the path from research to innovation, we need a more efficient framework for the transfer of results into marketable products and services.

We also need to improve the efficiency of production systems, ensure safe, nutritious and affordable food, and of course reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil-based resources. The Bio-Economy strategy will also seek to stimulate economic growth, especially the competitiveness of SMEs, and aim to make rural and coastal communities more sustainable.

So, what will the European Commission deliver?

We plan to issue a Commission Communication outlining a European strategy to develop a sustainable knowledge-based Bio-Economy, integrated into overall European policy, and linked to the Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, and our Industrial and Environmental policies.

The Communication will also propose an Agenda for delivering the strategy, detailing the specific steps needed at European, national and regional levels to achieve its goals.

Of course this strategy will involve several different Commission departments working closely together – a cross-sectoral approach must begin at home! But more importantly, we will need a broad range of inputs from stakeholders from other EU institutions, governments, science, academia, business and civil society. It is for this reason that we are all here today.

There will be other consultations in addition to this conference. We aim to launch a public consultation before the end of the year. We will carry out an impact assessment and we will consult a number of external expert groups on the socio-economic implications, education needs and other aspects of the strategy. Taking into account all these preparations, the Commission plans to adopt the Communication in the autumn of 2011, and we hope that it will be on the agenda of the Council of Ministers in spring 2012.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Bio-Economy will contribute to tomorrow's smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and its potential must be more fully exploited. But for that we need a long-term and coherent vision, involving different sciences and technologies, policy areas and industries. We also need the full engagement of citizens and their support in making Europe more innovative. Innovation depends on society and its confidence in new scientific developments. Today's conference aims to articulate a collective vision, one that is shared by all stakeholders, of the kind of Bio-Economy that we want in the future. The experiences, views and ideas that you will share with us today will form an indispensable input to our new strategy and action plan.

We will have to work hard together to shape the right policies and strategies. Your work, and the European Bio-Economy, can make vital contributions to achieving a true Innovation Union.

I invite you to be part of the challenging but exciting work ahead of us. I am sure that you will have excellent discussions today, and I look forward to putting your ideas into action in the coming years.

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