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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Opening speech by President Barroso at the High level Conference on Marie Curie Actions

High level Conference on Marie Curie Actions

Brussels, 9 December 2010

President Buzek,

Commissioner Vassiliou,

Distinguished guests,

It is a pleasure to be here today. It allows me to share with you my conviction that excellence and collaboration in research and innovation, carried out by high quality researchers, can fuel Europe's climb back to growth.

I believe in a Europe that invests in its future: in research and innovation and in its people. In a Europe that values its talents, where high-level education and skills prepare us to master the challenges ahead.

If we are to consolidate our position in an uncertain world, we must concentrate our efforts on a broad reform agenda for Europe. It is in this spirit that I and the European Commission launched Europe 2020, our strategy for growth. Europe 2020, and its seven flagship initiatives, sets out to reform Europe's economies over the next decade through investment in and exploitation of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

We celebrate today the 50,000th Marie Curie grant since the creation of this programme in 1996. This is a magnificent achievement.

By bridging education and research, and reaching out to industry, Marie Curie Actions are a strong enabler for at least three of these flagships – the Innovation Union, Youth on the Move and the Agenda for new skills and jobs.

Today I want to concentrate on the three principles which underpin these flagships; three principles that are echoed strongly in the Marie Curie Actions we celebrate here today - stimulating innovation; nurturing talent; and investing in better skills for better jobs.

Stimulating innovation has a vital purpose: to spur Europe into action now in order to safeguard our future, and the future of generations to come.

Its focus, through the Innovation Union, is on the big societal challenges we face today and tomorrow; challenges that people really care about, like caring for the growing number of older people, fighting climate change, managing our natural resources, and striving for a low carbon future.

This is not only about science and technology-based innovation but also about design and creativity and about social innovation. Our aim must be to spearhead a whole new mindset in Europe.

Europe has the ideas; but compared with our global competitors, we are sometimes less good at turning our ideas into innovative products and services.

The worldwide web was first conceived by a European. Facebook, Amazon and Google were not. And the conclusion is clear.

There is too much fragmentation in the research and innovation effort in Europe. We have to change the mentality that sees research and innovation as an add-on or some kind of luxury, and not part of a company's core business.

By removing bottlenecks to cooperation and cross-border mobility and between academia and industry, and improving access to finance for innovation, we can free up Europe's creativity. This is how we ensure that innovative ideas do not remain stuck on the drawing-board, but are turned into products and services that create growth and jobs.

The challenges on the table are not just Europe's problem. These are international challenges of great complexity and magnitude. We need the best talents, the best researchers in Europe and the world, to work together.

This brings me to my second principle - nurturing talent, the talent of our people: the core task of Marie Curie Actions.

Over the lifetime of the Seventh Framework Programme, we are funding more than 10,000 doctorates. Over the last three years, the number of applications has increased by 65%. We are rapidly expanding Europe's pool of talent, equipping the next generation of researchers with innovative skills in cross-cutting research, and setting new trends in European research organisations.

We have set our sights on transforming Europe into a highly competitive knowledge-based society. But this means we must reverse several decades of relative "brain-drain", and attract leading talent from all around the world.

Unless we can offer attractive research conditions and career prospects in Europe, innovative investments and talent will move elsewhere. Marie Curie Actions have already brought back over 2,000 highly experienced researchers to Europe from other parts of the world.

Marie Curie is not restricted to European researchers and organisations. It welcomes researchers of all nationalities as well as research organisations from beyond the EU. This plugs us into international networks of the highest order, and makes sure that the best research worldwide can also flow into the EU.

Today and tomorrow, Marie Curie Actions will have an instrumental role in reinforcing and even accelerating this trend, so as to make Europe an attractive place of excellence and innovation.

Being mobile for learning and for work – as so many researchers are – is also a great stimulus to talent. This is the message of our flagship initiative 'Youth on the Move', that the Commission adopted in September on the initiative of Commissioner Vassiliou.

Our intention is to open up learning mobility opportunities for all young people. After all, Erasmus and similar programmes are among the most successful of all EU policies. And this tried and tested experience tells us that a period of learning abroad is a highly effective, and highly rewarding, path to uncovering talents and improving skills.

Future growth will depend on tapping into these talents. Which is why it is so important that we invest in better skills for better jobs.

Our Europe 2020 strategy maintains the EU's target of investing 3% of GDP in research and development. Translated into jobs, this means the EU will need at least one million new research jobs to reach this target.

It is a challenging target to hit, particularly in the current financial climate. But cutting research and development investment is a false economy, because it is fundamental for the new growth that we want and we need in Europe.

And since many researchers will retire over the next decade, the number of researchers needed in the workplace is actually even higher.

This calls for a huge effort: to upgrade and embed research within our companies; to attract young talent into choosing research careers; and to provide top–quality training.

We need a meeting of minds, between business, academia and public authorities, to ensure our researchers are equipped with the best cutting-edge skills.

Investing in better skills for better jobs is at the heart of our Europe 2020 flagship "An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs".

The labour market is as you know changing fast. The economic crisis has wiped out millions of jobs. But underlying structural factors like globalisation, technological changes, ageing populations and the shift to a low-carbon economy are also changing the pattern and sometimes the very nature of work.

As a result, we are running short on adequate skills in some sectors and occupations, while at the same time, people who are seeking work do not have the skills that are in demand.

In one of our Member States we studied, we found one million job vacancies that cannot be filled because a lack of people with the required skills.

We need to guide people into high-skilled jobs that will secure growth. But this will not happen by itself. Business and universities do not necessarily share the same mission. So we strongly encourage a dialogue between business and universities so that they at least understand each other's needs.

Achieving this goal requires industry needs to invest its share in research, and in researchers. Business should be more involved in curricula development and doctoral training, so that skills better match their requirements, and so that, ultimately, we get more innovation out of our research. Through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), the Commission is looking for an enhanced connection between business, research and education. The projects under this Institute will, I hope, produce this symbiosis very soon.

Today, with about half its budget dedicated to strengthening cooperation between universities and businesses, Marie Curie Actions are also playing a crucial role in helping us towards this goal.

Through exposure to both academia and enterprise, our researchers develop an all-round skill set. This not only prepares them for careers in the innovation-oriented research world of the future. Training people to combine research and business skills strengthens the whole innovation value chain, making Europe more effective at turning ideas into marketable innovations.

And these innovations will create the business opportunities, revenue and employment that will help us reach our sustainable growth objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By making Europe the destination of choice for researchers; by focussing on training; and by promoting the free movement of knowledge, our Marie Curie Actions are a vital building block of our Europe 2020 Strategy.

I am proud not only that we can demonstrate our political commitment to nurturing talent and boosting research careers, but also that we can show some of the fruit of this commitment here today.

This conference will present some outstanding projects that showcase European innovation and excellence, and highlight some prominent international research collaborations.

That is what this is all about – supporting researchers so that European research and innovation can flourish.

Today, we mark a milestone for Marie Curie Actions – reaching 50,000 researchers.

Tomorrow, this year's most prominent scientific discoveries will be celebrated in Stockholm and researchers will receive their Nobel Prizes.

I am reminded of the modest words of Albert Einstein, who said: 'I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.'

Of course, he had more than talent; he had genius. But it was his curiosity that drove him forward. My great pride today is that with Marie Curie Actions, we can give free rein to the curiosity and hunger for discovery of the whole scientific community.

I wish you a fruitful conference and I thank you for your attention.

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