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Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Consultation on simplifying EU research and innovation funding and increasing impact and value for money

Press Conference at the European Commission

Brussels, 9th February 2011

Today we are launching a consultation process which will culminate in radical changes to the way we fund research and innovation.

I asked when I spoke here about the Innovation Union Scoreboard on 1 Feb for an end to fragmentation of policy and of effort between Member States – and that theme is prominent in the Green Paper.

But the EU also has to step up to the plate. We need to obtain the best value for taxpayers for every euro we spend from Brussels.

So we also need to do things in a much more joined-up way at EU-level.

The Common Strategic Framework we are setting out today will improve links between EU funding for different parts of the innovation chain, from basic research to innovation by companies.

It will make sure each element of funding is contributing to tackling the grand challenges we face, in areas like climate change, energy and food security, resource efficiency, health or an ageing population.

That will be true for research traditionally funded by Framework Programmes. It will be true for the kind of cooperation between industry and universities promoted by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. And it will be true for the firm-level innovation primarily covered by the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme.

A Common Strategic Framework aims at a better coherence and streamlining of existing instruments and at better complementing national and regional funding. Let me take the example of support to SMEs:

  • We have various instruments covering the value chain from research to innovation;

  • We support large SMEs and micro SMEs, and we support high-tech SMEs, low-tech SMEs and no-tech SMEs;

  • We provide grants and loans and other support mechanisms;

  • So the questions are: could we do better and improve results by merging some of these instruments? Even if not, are they operating too much in isolation? Can we apply a more coherent strategy?

We need to be able to demonstrate very clearly in the forthcoming budget negotiations that we are doing things efficiently and that there is clear added value at EU level for every euro we spend.

This Green Paper is also very much the next step in our simplification agenda – we cannot maximise value for money without simplification. We need to release our researchers and innovators from red tape.

So we will also make it easier to apply for funding from any or all of our instruments and we will make it easier to administer and account for that funding.

Lump sum payments are likely to be an important element.

We are proposing strengthening the role of the European Research Council.

I've already done on 24 January what was possible under the Commission's own prerogatives. We have released beneficiaries from certain rigid and counter-productive accounting rules.

We have ended the situation where many of the SMEs we want to attract to the Framework Programmes were in effect barred….. because we had no way of reimbursing the contribution of their owner managers.

The further steps on which we are consulting today will require agreement of the other EU institutions. We will make proposals before the end of the year for the legislative instruments that need to be in force when the current programmes run out in 2013.

I am very encouraged that heads of state and government at the European Council last week specifically endorsed the principles of a Common Strategic Framework and of more simplification.

They also called for agreement before the end of the year on the Commission's proposal for a new overall Financial Regulation for EU expenditure. We need that reformed Financial Regulation to be able to implement many of the changes we want.

I cannot promise that the proposals we will bring forward will please everybody. But I can pledge that this consultation will not be a cosmetic exercise. We want as many contributions as possible from a wide a range of stakeholders. Each and every one will be taken into account, even if that means burning the midnight oil in this building and in the DGs! Our proposals will of course also reflect the mid-term evaluation of FP7 and ongoing evaluation of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and of the EIT.

I want it to be an innovative and transparent consultation. I don't intend to hide away somewhere until 20 May and wait for responses to come in. I will be looking for views everywhere I go, as indeed I have done over the last year. My senior officials will also be out there debating with stakeholders.

We already have an Innovation Union Facebook page, which is a very good forum for debate. But we will set up other web and social media tools. Rather than filing contributions away when they arrive, we will be putting some of them online to stimulate further debate.

The Common Strategic Framework is not an inspiring name, so I will be launching a competition to find a better one. More news on that in a few weeks.

Some have asked why we are not putting forward more detailed proposals today. My answer to that is simple. This is a Green Paper, a consultation paper, and the job of a consultation paper is to set out a clear outline and get the views of stakeholders on whether that is right and if so how we best get there.

A Green Paper is not supposed to provide the answers before we have asked the questions and we would be rightly criticised if we did that.

So I want to listen and learn. That is something I have tried to do throughout my first year here, which I celebrate this week. It has been a truly inspiring experience.

I have listened to researchers and scientists, to universities, to Chief Executives and to SMEs. I have listened to Ministers and MEPs, as well as our international partners, notably the US. I have listened to think-tanks like Bruegel and the Lisbon Council. I have listened to associations, including Business Europe and Science Business. I have listened to the European trade unions. I have listened to the OECD. And many more I cannot name here.

And I can assure you I have learned from all of them.

I have heard a remarkable degree of consensus on four points. At the European Council, heads of state and government have fully backed that consensus:

  • First, we need an Innovation Union to exit from crisis and achieve long-term sustainable growth. The Innovation Union must include a world-beating science base, much more effective public-private cooperation and a bonfire of all the barriers that prevent good ideas coming to market. We put on the table in October proposals to achieve that. I'm delighted that we have moved so far so quickly, especially in preparing the first European innovation Partnership on active and healthy ageing;

  • Second, focusing on the key global challenges, in addition to its intrinsic value, is the way to face the globalised future and to ensure that the EU has a technological edge in markets where demand will be growing;

  • Third, EU research and innovation funding already punches above its weight and constitutes a perfect illustration of how a euro spent at EU level can bring bigger returns than one spent at national level. I was in the UK on Monday, for example, and encountered a really genuine and inspiring enthusiasm from everyone from the Science Minister David Willets to the young researchers we met at University College, London.

But the fourth area on which I have found consensus is the one we are trying to address through this Green Paper. Everyone agrees that we can achieve even better results if we are more coherent with EU funding and if we implement radical simplification.

At the moment we have too much rigidity in some respects – such as accounting rules - and too much confusion in others – like the plethora of different application procedures for different instruments and the sometimes inconsistent approach to implementing rules that in theory should be the same for all.

So today we are asking for stakeholders' help in replacing rigidity with flexibility and in replacing confusion with consistency.

This matters not only to researchers and innovators, but to everyone in Europe, because EU research funding is a key driver of the kind of changes Europe needs to improve lives and create jobs over the coming decades.

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