European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
"Sharing excellence in science, technology and innovation between Europe, Singapore and the ASEAN region"
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore, 3 March 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe has been making the news for the wrong reasons recently. Today I want to rewrite the headlines. While clearly we have difficulties, we are taking the right decisions to ensure an economic road to recovery. Europe is most definitely open for business.
As the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, I am responsible for driving research and innovation policy at the European level. Recently, Europe has taken decisive action in these areas, so I am grateful to have this opportunity today to talk to you about them and about the many opportunities for greater collaboration between our scientists.
International cooperation features strongly on the European Union's research and innovation agenda because it makes sense to bring the world's best researchers together, where possible, in order to tackle our common challenges such as climate change, health, energy and food security or our ageing population. It also makes sense for researchers around the world to look for ways to collaborate with Europe. But there are other reasons to do this too.
Despite its current economic difficulties, the European Union remains an economic powerhouse. Its GDP is bigger than that of the United States and with just 7% of the world's population, our trade with the rest of the world accounts for around 20% of global imports and exports. We are the world's biggest exporter and the second-biggest importer.
The EU is Singapore's second trading partner, just after Malaysia and before China, while Singapore was the EU’s 12th largest trading partner in 2010. As of 2009, EU and Singapore companies have invested over 140 billion Euro or more than 235 billion Singaporean Dollars in each other’s economies over the years.
The EU is Singapore's biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment, representing 30% of the total while the United States accounts for 11% and Japan for 10.5%.
For all these reasons it would be short-sighted for Singapore, home to five million people, not to seek to strengthen research ties with the European Union, a bloc of 500 million. And apart from the immense scale of European research, more importantly, we are still the home of world-class ideas and world-class science.
We lead the world in diverse areas such as aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, automotive manufacturing, energy and transport. Indeed, European know-how helps keep Singapore moving and working: Siemens of Germany has one of the largest European presences here. They built one third of Singapore’s power plants, while their trains provide safe and reliable transport for thousands of commuters.
But the story of MP3 technology – developed in Europe but brought to its full commercial potential elsewhere – has taught us that while Europe may be full of good ideas, we are still not as good as we should be at turning them into innovative products and services that people around the world want to buy.
This is precisely why in October 2010 I launched Innovation Union, our Europe-wide initiative that puts research and innovation at the heart of the European Union’s policies to boost growth and jobs.
The guiding principle of Innovation Union is to improve the basic conditions that allow researchers, entrepreneurs and companies to flourish. We will remove any obstacles that prevent innovators from transforming the excellent basic research that Europe does so well into new products and services that will be successful in world markets.
There is a strong commitment to act in Europe, and to act together. This is clearest in the strong backing for Innovation Union given by the 27 EU Member States and by the European Parliament. And even in times of hard choices for governments, there is agreement that investing in research and innovation is essential to our economy and to our future.
We keep careful track of our progress and I am pleased to say that we have already made excellent headway in implementing Innovation Union's 34 different commitments. We are tackling problem areas such as faster standard-setting in Europe, cheaper and easier patenting, more public procurement of innovative products and services and better access to venture capital.
Innovation Union is all about capitalising on our brightest and most innovative ideas, so we held the first European Innovation Convention in Brussels last December, bringing together hundreds of global innovation leaders from the worlds of science, business, politics and the arts. I am sure that one of the reasons for the success of the Convention was that we were open to discussing the best ideas from all over the world.
Indeed, Innovation Union dedicates an entire chapter to boosting international cooperation, recognising that working better with our international partners means opening access to our R&D programmes, while ensuring comparable conditions abroad.
Our objectives under Innovation Union – including more international cooperation - are supported by the world's largest public programme for research, the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, better known as FP7.
FP7 is investing more than 55 billion euro, or 92.4 billion Singaporean dollars, over seven years until 2013 in areas including agriculture, fisheries and food; health, nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, transport, energy, environment, security and climate change.
The next package of calls for proposals this summer will release around 10 billion Euro of financing for cooperative research. FP7 is fully open to researchers and companies from all over the world and Singaporean participants have an impressive record in previous Framework Programmes. For example, under the Sixth Framework Programme, nearly 90% of applications for funding in the critical Information Society Technology theme were successful.
One example of our excellent cooperation is the fascinating ATMOL project, part financed by the Framework Programme to the tune of 10 million Euro (16.8 million Singaporean Dollars). Singapore's A*Star Institute of Materials Research and Engineering is working with ten research organisations from the EU to build and test a molecular-sized processor chip.
We have noticed, however, a downward trend in Singapore's participation in FP7. There is indeed co-operation in the ICT sector but there is serious potential for a greater level of collaboration between Singapore and the EU in the fields of research, innovation and science.
I am aware that there are some concerns within Singapore's research community about how easy it is to participate in FP7. While many other Asian partners have a stronger record of participation, I will admit that there was a real need to make it easier to participate in the Framework Programme.
Simplification of research funding is one of the main tasks I set myself when I took office two years ago. I introduced several simplification measures last year, but our new programme for European research and innovation funding – Horizon 2020 – will take simplification much further when it begins in 2014.
Horizon 2020 will bring all the European-level funding under one umbrella for the first time. And while the existing 7th Framework Programme is already the world's biggest public research programme, we are proposing to increase Horizon 2020's budget to 80 billion Euro, or more than 134 billion Singaporean Dollars. This increase shows how serious we are in Europe about investing in research and innovation as the way to growth and jobs.
Horizon 2020's simplified structure is composed of three distinct but mutually reinforcing pillars, making it easier for applicants to identify where the opportunities exist.
Innovation starts with excellent research. Horizon 2020's First Pillar is aimed at boosting excellence in Europe's science base. A proposed investment of over 24 billion Euro will enable the most talented scientists to carry out cutting edge research of the highest quality.
We propose to nearly double to more than 13 billion Euro (or nearly 22 billion Singaporean Dollars) our support for the spectacularly successful European Research Council, or ERC, securing the best frontier research that leads to the greatest innovations.
I am a big fan of the ERC, one of Europe's biggest success stories, and not only from the research point of view.
It is the first European funding body designed to support investigator-driven frontier research through open competition. Its main goal is to boost scientific excellence in Europe by supporting and encouraging the very best, truly creative researchers to identify and explore new opportunities and directions in any field of research. You don't have to be European to be funded – ERC grant-holders represent 53 different countries all around the world, and they are working in some 480 institutions across Europe.
The ERC celebrated its fifth anniversary in Brussels only last Wednesday and it can already point to a remarkable list of achievements. We are certainly achieving our goal of excellence. There are four Nobel laureates and three Fields Medallists among its grantees, as well as the winners of 30 other internationally recognised prizes. Around 3400 articles acknowledging ERC funding have appeared in peer-reviewed high-impact journals. And, in the course of 2011, every week at least one ERC-funded project reported its findings in either Nature or Science magazines!
All in all, the ERC presents scientists from Singapore with wonderful opportunities to carry out excellent basic research – the ERC President, Prof Helga Novotny, already publicised these when she visited Singapore last month.
The Second Pillar of Horizon 2020 aims to boost industrial leadership, with actions to make Europe a more attractive place for businesses to invest in R&D and innovation. We will invest nearly 18 billion Euro under this pillar, including 13.7 billion Euro in targeted support on the key enabling and industrial technologies that underpin innovation across different industries and sectors. This includes ICT, nanotechnologies, advanced materials, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing processes and space.
The Third Pillar focuses on Tackling Societal Challenges, which will receive nearly 32 billion Euro of funding. It is proposed to focus on the following six challenges: Health, demographic change and wellbeing; Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine research and the bio-economy; Secure, clean and efficient energy; Smart, green and integrated transport; Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials; and, Inclusive, innovative and secure societies.
Horizon 2020 means more research and less bureaucracy - we are slashing red-tape so that scientists and innovators can spend more time in the laboratory or in the workshop and less time filling in forms.
In an ever-more inter-connected world, scientific breakthroughs or the innovative applications of new technologies rarely come about by working in isolation. Horizon 2020 will offer European and Asian scientists, researchers and innovators many opportunities to work together, to make the discoveries and breakthroughs that will improve our economies and our day to day lives. We are counting on researchers and innovators from Singapore to be a part of this endeavour.
I am taking every opportunity during my two days here to discuss with policymakers and stakeholders how we can encourage more Singaporean researchers to cooperate with their European colleagues.
I am convinced that we could better combine the strengths of Singapore, for instance in terms of research facilities and market deployment with Europe's excellence in research.
And Horizon 2020 will offer concrete opportunities for Singaporean researchers to team up with researchers in Europe to develop and deploy innovative products and processes focussing in particular on societal challenges of common interest.
We can build our cooperation on a firm foundation. Many of the EU's Member States have already forged close ties with your research community. There are over 8500 EU companies established in Singapore, including Shell, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Tate & Lyle, Rolls Royce and Reuters. The German Bayer group, through its Singapore subsidiary, is investing 14.5 million Singaporean Dollars, or 8.6 million euro in R&D in the area of early diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients.
France's CNRS has established excellent cooperation with Singaporean institutions, including working with NTU in the field of nanophotonics; while INSERM, the French National Health Research Centre, has established a joint laboratory with A*STAR to fight malaria.
While bilateral cooperation is of course very important, there is also great scope to further boost multi-lateral cooperation between the EU and the ASEAN region. Since 2008, the European Union and ASEAN have engaged in a bi-regional Science and Technology dialogue that has helped set joint priorities and improve ASEAN participation in the EU Framework Programme. The main areas of cooperation are Environment, ICT, Health and Food, Agriculture and Biotechnologies. ASEAN offers great economic opportunities for European business, and vice versa of course.
Another reason why I am especially pleased to be visiting Singapore at this time is because 2012 is the ASEAN-EU Year of Science, Technology and Innovation. One highlight will be the 'Partnership Symposium' on EU-ASEAN Research and Innovation Cooperation that will take place during the ESOF 2012 conference.
I am delighted that the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF), Europe's largest research and technology and innovation conference, is taking place this year in my home country, Ireland. I hope that you many of you will be able to come.
The Horizon 2020 programme will offer many new opportunities for ASEAN researchers to work with their EU counterparts. Our cooperation could be even more intensive if more European researchers were able to work with their ASEAN counterparts under ASEAN funding programmes. At the European level, the EU Centre in Singapore is promoting a greater understanding of the European Union, its institutions, policies, and impact on Singapore and the region. I would like to extend my gratitude to the two universities that host the EU centre: the NUS and, of course, the NTU.
This greater understanding of the European Union, its goals, its achievements and challenges, has never been more necessary. Since FP7 was launched in 2007, the European Union economy has been faced with one of the biggest challenges in its history as we try to restore confidence and fiscal sustainability.
The EU has a clear strategy for building a better future and all Member States are working in the same direction. Many of the steps that were essential to deliver financial stability and to establish the conditions for more sustainable growth and job creation have now been taken.
Over the past year and a half, we have achieved much progress, including a European strategy for growth – Europe 2020 - a substantially reinforced Stability and Growth Pact, and the 'European Semester', through which we coordinate our fiscal and macro-economic policies and implement our agenda for growth on an annual basis. And most recently, the Union has drafted an important new Treaty to create a European Stability Mechanism.
Europe is pursuing a policy of smart fiscal consolidation. We are focusing now on the measures that will produce jobs, growth and competitiveness today and tomorrow.
According to recent statistics, all but four of the 27 EU Member States registered increased public and private R&D investment between 2007 and 2010. Horizon 2020 will complement this approach at a European level.
As I already mentioned, the EU intends to increase investment in research and innovation - from 55 billion euro under FP7 to 80 billion euro under Horizon 2020 - giving a clear signal that we will maintain our strong position.
So the time is right to step-up our cooperation in research and innovation. That is why I am very grateful for your invitation to address you here today. It is a real honour to be at the Nanyang Technological University, a leading institution with an excellent reputation, and one of the most active Singaporean participants in our European research programmes. You are proof that we can do better research by doing it together.
So, please, find out more about what Europe has to offer. Because Europe is backing excellence, Europe is backing innovation, Europe is back in business.