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Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Innovation for stronger regions: opportunities in FP7
Committee of the Regions
Brussels, July 14 2011
Vice-President Valcárcel Siso, Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Committee of the Regions for co-organising with us and hosting this event, and also thank those Members of the Committee who will participate in the various sessions today.
I am delighted to welcome so many people here today. Your contributions and your opinions are essential to our efforts in the European Commission to help boost research and innovation in Europe's regions.
While today’s event is mainly about the funding opportunities available to regional actors under the 7th Framework Programme for Research, I also want to put these opportunities in the wider context of what the regions can do to boost research and innovation across Europe, helping to meet our Europe 2020 goals.
If we want to keep pace with global competition and safeguard our unique socio-economic model, Europe needs to become more competitive and more innovative. Europe's leaders all agree on this, and in June last year they endorsed the Europe 2020 Strategy, our ambitious agenda to get Europe out of its current economic difficulties and to create a smart, sustainable and socially-inclusive society.
Research and innovation are at the heart of Europe 2020. It is in this context that last October I presented the Innovation Union Flagship initiative that proposes a raft of policies and actions to boost innovation across our economy and society. One major goal is to spread the benefits of innovation across the whole European Union.
We need the active involvement of all regions to boost Europe's research and innovation performance, bridging the innovation divide between the strongest performers and those regions that are catching up. This can only be achieved with political buy-in from regional and local authorities across Europe.
Since the regions have a crucial part to play, naturally Innovation Union seeks to boost their research and innovation capacity.
Regional policy is another key driver to implement our Europe 2020 and Innovation Union goals, and we are working to ensure a better inter-action and synergy between regional policy on the one hand and research and innovation policy on the other. Indeed, on the same day as I launched the Innovation Union initiative last October, the Commission also adopted its Communication on Regional Policy Contributing to Smart Growth in Europe 2020.
The Communication highlights a number of ways to improve the use of structural funds for research and innovation, including through innovation poles and clusters; investment strategies and access to finance, public private partnerships, innovative public procurement, research infrastructure and by boosting SME innovation.
All these issues are also at the top of the Innovation Union agenda, and Innovation Union urges Member States to improve their use of existing Structural Funds for research and innovation to help people develop the necessary skills, improve the performance of national research and innovation systems and start to implement "Smart Specialisation" strategies.
Smart specialisation means giving priority to investments in research and innovation that play to a region's particular strengths. Regions need to focus scarce human and financial resources on a selected number of competitive areas that have the best chance of boosting economic growth and prosperity. Smart specialisation also means harnessing and capitalising on the wonderful diversity in Europe's regions whilst avoiding uniformity and duplication.
The European Commission is assisting the Member States to develop smart specialisation strategies through the Smart Specialisation Platform that was officially launched at the Regions for Economic Change conference in Brussels on 23 June.
As well as encouraging new policies and actions, the European Union is also providing the financial means to help boost our regions' research and innovation capacity.
The Structural Funds are already an important source, with 25 percent of the available funding for the period 2007-2013 dedicated to innovation in the broad sense, and more than 14 percent earmarked for core research, technological development and innovation.
But we are here today to talk more about the opportunities under the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research, better known to us all as FP7.
FP7 is investing more than 55 billion Euro over seven years until 2013 in areas such as agriculture, fisheries and food; health, nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, transport, energy, environment, security, and climate change.
I am very keen to increase the FP7 participation of those Member States and regions with less-developed research systems. Coming from one of Europe's more peripheral regions myself, I am very aware of the challenges and the opportunities.
The next two calls for proposals will be launched next week on 19 July, and in July 2012. Around 18 billion Euro will be available under FP7 over the next two years. This is an important economic stimulus package and a long-term investment in a smarter, sustainable and more inclusive Europe. We want this substantial investment to spark new ideas that will lead to new jobs. In all parts of Europe.
These calls offer an unparalleled opportunity to set up new strategic research partnerships, reinforce innovation capacities and enhance technological and scientific excellence. I strongly encourage you to look carefully at the forthcoming FP7 call for proposals next week to see what new opportunities could exist for your regions in a range of different policy areas.
And while, overall, FP7 pays no attention to where applicants are located in Europe, the needs of regions are given special attention in the "Regions of Knowledge" and "Research Potential" themes.
Regions of Knowledge aims to develop and integrate research-driven clusters across Europe in order to promote regional economic development and worldwide competitiveness. This will help the process of smart specialisation and stimulate more effective investment in research and innovation at regional level via tailor-made regional strategies based on business needs.
Regions of Knowledge also fosters public-private partnerships to mobilise European, national and regional funds and to promote synergies, notably with Structural Funds.
The second FP7 measure with a strong regional component is the Research Potential programme. This programme aims to unlock and develop research excellence in the EU's Convergence and Outermost regions. It helps strengthen the capacity of public or private research institutions and researchers to successfully participate in Europe-wide research projects, including by developing strategic partnerships with top research teams in other countries.
The increased participation of regional research institutions in European projects can boost skills, knowledge and excellence and has a positive economic effect on the ground. More than 50% of the proposals funded under the 'Research Potential' programme come from the Member States with lower participation overall in FP7. This is already a good result, but we are determined to do even better.
And what does the future hold?
Two weeks ago, the European Commission made its proposal for the EU's budget for the years 2014 to 2020. I am delighted that the Commission is putting research, innovation and science at the heart of the EU's pro-jobs agenda, proposing to allocate 80 billion Euro.
Compared to the current seven-year Framework Programme, that represents an increase of 46 percent in our investment in research and innovation. This is a much-needed boost to our growth and jobs potential.
And in the context of EU budget planning, the Commission is determined to improve the interface between EU research and innovation policy and the Structural Funds. The Commission has proposed two distinct but strongly complementary common strategic frameworks, one for research and innovation and one for cohesion policy.
We are already hard at work on the successor to the 7th Framework Programme. Last February, I launched an extensive public consultation on our proposal for the new framework for EU research and innovation funding, called Horizon 2020 that will begin in 2014.
We are aiming to streamline the EU funding instruments for research and innovation in a more coherent way, while ensuring that national and regional funding programmes complement one another. This will allow us to put in place integrated strategies covering the full innovation chain, from basic research all the way to the appearance of innovative products and services on the market.
Horizon 2020 must have the scale and scope to tackle the major societal challenges that Europe faces. It must therefore be very closely linked to the EU's overall policy priorities in domains such as energy, transport, climate change, environment or health.
Horizon 2020 must help create an environment where businesses can unleash innovation by tackling obstacles to innovation such as insufficient investment in key technologies, the inadequate access to finance or the fact that our SMEs are finding it hard to fully exploit their growth potential.
This is vital as Horizon 2020 must focus even more on raising the level of excellence of our science base. We need to strengthen the European Research Council, but also step up our support for world-class research infrastructures and for the Marie Curie actions.
Simplification will be one of the key principles of Horizon 2020. Earlier this year, I introduced a number of simplification measures relating to grant management under the 7th Framework Programme and I am committed to more radical simplification under Horizon 2020.
The public consultation on Horizon 2020 took place between February and May and generated a huge response from stakeholders. We received more than 2000 replies, including 775 position papers from national governments, European associations, businesses, universities, and regional and local organisations. On 10 June, we held a major conference in Brussels to wrap up the public consultation and discuss the results with the wider stakeholder community.
In the coming months, the European Commission will develop and refine its plans for Horizon 2020 and later this year we will make a formal proposal to the Member States in the European Council and to the European Parliament.
As I already mentioned, the Commission is also working on its proposals for the future architecture of EU cohesion policy. The Common Strategic Framework for Cohesion will encompass the actions covered today by the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Fisheries Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
Clearly, it is vital that the two Common Strategic Frameworks - Cohesion and Horizon 2020 for research and innovation - operate closely together in order to exploit synergies and avoid overlap.
I hope I have given you much food for thought about the opportunities for innovative regions that exist and that are being developed at the European level.
And now, what can regional and local authorities do?
I know that you will have your own ideas on this – you are the experts - and I hope that you will share them in the parallel sessions, but here are some of my thoughts:
You can help raise awareness of the importance of investing in innovation at regional and national level. We cannot afford to jeopardise future growth by cutting back now on the investment in education, skills, research and innovation that is necessary for long-term economic recovery.
I know that this is not easy. The fiscal position in many Member States is very tight. It is a time of tough choices. But – within the limits of their respective possibilities – Member States and regions should try to prioritise the investments that will create the jobs of tomorrow. Many, including France and Germany, are already doing just that. So are many of our competitors.
This is a crucial issue. According to economists, reaching the target reconfirmed by Europe 2020 of investing 3% of Europe's GDP in R&D could create more than three million jobs and increase annual GDP by 700 billion Euro by 2025. The full impact of Innovation Union is potentially still higher. We are moving in the right direction to reach our target, but at close to 2 per cent of GDP, we still have some way to go.
Investment also needs to come from the private sector. Private sector involvement in R&D within the EU stands at 1.15 per cent of GDP intensity. This is simply too low compared to competitors like the United States and South Korea. We have to be innovative ourselves in terms of policies and initiatives to support companies, particularly SMEs, in the fields of research and technology
Regional and local authorities can also make sure that their research communities are fully informed about the great opportunities to be seized under FP7 – in particular the July 19th calls for proposals. There are many people willing to help. Not only my staff in the Directorate General for Research and Innovation, but also the FP7 National Contact Points and the European Commission offices in the Member States.
And one very concrete action that regional and local authorities can take is to use public procurement to support innovative products and services. 17 per cent of GDP in Europe comes from public procurement tenders. In the USA and in some EU Member States, including the UK, the Netherlands and in Finland, small business innovation programmes are in operation and these initiatives are supporting innovative small and medium sized companies under the public procurement process.
Lastly, try to align as much as possible your own regional research and innovation priorities to the EU ones. If we really are going to achieve the European Research Area that Member States have said must be put in place by 2014, we will need better coherence and synergy from top to bottom. And quid pro quo, at the European level we will do our best to ensure that our policies and programmes are suited to the needs and challenges of the regions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We must all be innovators now! We need political buy-in from governments and from regional and local authorities across Europe to support the much-needed innovation that will create and maintain employment, improve the quality of our lives and build a better society both within Europe, and at a global level. This means nothing less than turning the European Union into an Innovation Union.
In February, the Member States gave their strong backing to Innovation Union. I am delighted that Innovation Union also enjoys the strong support of the Committee of the Regions as the voice of the regions in Brussels.
I am pleased that we are already working so well together on our common goals and I look forward to even better cooperation in the future.