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European Commission

Androulla VASSILIOU

Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

A new horizon for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology

EIT Stakeholders Conference/Larnaca, Cyprus

8 November 2012

Dear Minister Demosthenous,

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you for this two-day conference on the future of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – the EIT.

I would like to thank the Cypriot Presidency for organising this event, which demonstrates your commitment to the question of innovation in Europe. We are honoured to have so many distinguished guests to share with us their expertise and experience.

The EIT is a European initiative to boost Europe's innovation capacity and nurture the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. With the EIT, we have launched, if not perhaps a revolution, then certainly a real evolution in the way Europe approaches the challenge of innovation.

The stakes are high. Advances in science, technology and innovation are inseparable from our society’s prosperity. Breakthroughs do not come easily, or by themselves. But the inevitable consequence of failing to invest in science, support technology, and foster innovation, would be stagnation.

The capacity to innovate has always been decisive for the development of our societies. Today, we face a stark choice.

Either we learn to react more quickly to economic and environmental challenges and to adapt successfully to technological and societal change, or we simply carry on as before, and put our current and future prosperity in jeopardy.

All of this takes on even greater urgency in the current economic crisis we are facing. If we are to build the knowledge economy we want in Europe, we need to invest seriously in our capacity to innovate.

And when it comes to innovation, Europe has all it takes to be among the world’s leaders. We can count on the foundations of excellent research and academia as well as dynamic companies, large and small. But we are not there, yet. This is the European Paradox.

Indeed, despite our strong potential, we are still falling behind our competitors in terms of innovation capacity. For too long, our innovation policies were structured around the idea that massively investing in research would automatically lead to innovation.

Investing in excellent research is certainly a pre-requisite, but it is not enough. We must also invest in excellence in innovation.

And until now, the education dimension was often the missing ingredient in the more traditional partnerships between businesses and research.

For innovation to surge, human capital and the creative potential existing within our universities need to be put back at the very centre of the innovation cycle. Ultimately, people are at the heart of innovation.

We need to create a new mind-set in Europe, which in turn will produce a more entrepreneurial culture. Being entrepreneurial means being creative and self-confident as well as taking calculated risks by developing a spirit of initiative. It also means we have to help people to see failure as a normal and useful part of life in business.

With the EIT, Europe is trying to offer solutions to most of these challenges.

The EIT brings together, within structured and governed partnerships – the Knowledge and Innovative Communities or KICs – all the actors of the innovation cycle: businesses, research centres and for the first time universities and engineering schools.

Our aim is to build on Europe’s existing centres of excellence, to connect them and to bridge the gap between ideas and business creation. To achieve this, the EIT brings a capacity to reach across the whole EU and tap into lesser-known centres of excellence.

The experiment has proven more than worthwhile. We have set up the first three KICs, working on climate change, ICT and sustainable energy - you will have the opportunity to meet some of their partners during this conference, especially their respective CEOs-.

They have brought together more than 280 partners from the worlds of higher education, research and business. In just two years, 27 start-up companies have been created, and more than 50 are in the pipeline as well as 35 patents.

And maybe the best proof of the attractiveness of the EIT model is the response and commitment of the private sector: industry has invested heavily in the KICs and fully participated in their activities.

After such an initial phase with a limited budget of only €300 million over 3 years, the potential for the EIT to grow and to have a lasting impact on the European innovation landscape is unique.

We are here today precisely to prepare for this future. I will not tell you that it will all be clear sailing. But we have proposed a clear route – the Strategic Innovation Agenda – which will help us to navigate the seas ahead.

For the next EU funding period 2014-2020 the Commission proposes to significantly strengthen the EIT's role as an institute at the service of Europe.

That means consolidating the three current KICs to a level where they can serve as an example for new KICs and compete on a global scale. But it also means creating new KICs that address true economic and societal challenges in other areas where Europe's innovation potential can be unlocked.

The Commission has proposed six fields that are considered the most promising for new KICs and the creation of new businesses. These news KICs would be created in two phases:

  • three new KICs in 2014 in the fields of health and demography (in particular, active aging and healthy living), food security and sustainable access to raw materials,

  • And three others in added-value manufacturing, urban mobility and smart secure societies.

The purpose of today's conference, and especially of this afternoon’s session, is to look at these six new themes in greater detail, while disseminating the experiences and lessons learnt from the first wave of KICs.

Of course we cannot embark on this ambitious journey without adequate resources. If we are to reach a systemic impact on a European scale, we need to be serious about investing in the EIT.

This is why the Commission has proposed to allocate 3.19 billion euros to the EIT for the next budgetary period. This investment is crucial. Without it, the ability to attract the right partners from higher education, research and business would be greatly diminished.

By 2020, the objective of the EIT will be to create 600 start-up companies and support 10,000 Master's students and 10,000 PhDs focused on science and entrepreneurship.

We have also proposed to include the EIT within the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation – Horizon 2020. It will help us obtain better synergies with other EU programmes and initiatives and therefore maximise our resources.

The EIT will play a distinctive role in Horizon 2020, as a test bed for new, flexible and simplified models of EU innovation funding and governance but also as the only instrument at European level whose aim is to create the right ecosystems for innovation.

The EIT is a lean organisation, built on the principles of simplification, efficiency, autonomy and accountability. These are the qualities that all stakeholders have come to appreciate. This is why the EIT's current independence and flexibility will be preserved.

The EIT will also retain its funding model. With a limited EU contribution, the EIT and the KICs are able to leverage at least 75% of their budget from many sources, including contributions from business partners. This is crucial to the viability of the EIT and the KICs.

Finally, integrating fully the educational dimension within the knowledge triangle is certainly one of the greatest strengths and added values of the EIT and the KICs. It is their contribution to the modernisation of higher education in Europe as already shown by the different Master programmes created by the KICs.

The EIT will continue to promote a better match between the needs of the market and the role of universities as guardians and transmitters of knowledge. It will stimulate new and better curricula; the transmission of entrepreneurial values to students and researchers; and the promotion of excellence in education.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By better supporting the journey from research to the market, the EIT will spearhead the integration of the European innovation scene. The new wave of entrepreneurs that the EIT will help to create will lay the foundations of a more intelligent, more sustainable growth in Europe.

If we want Europe to become more creative and competitive, the support that the EIT and its KICs can give to start-ups, new ventures and innovative SMEs will be crucial.

But the future of the EIT is now in the hands of the European Union’s Council and Parliament. If on the technical negotiations there is good progress, thanks especially to the Cypriot Presidency, uncertainty remains over the budget which will ultimately be allocated to the EIT and to a larger extent to Horizon 2020.

The European Parliament, and especially its Industry committee, has already indicated its willingness to support the budget for the EIT proposed by the Commission and even to increase the budget of Horizon 2020. And I welcome this.

However, in two weeks (22/23 November), a European Council summit will discuss the future budget of Europe. I call on the Heads of State and Government to invest seriously in growth enhancing measures such as the EIT, and not to cut investment in Europe's human capital, which is still our comparative advantage on the global stage.

The Cypriot Presidency will have a central role to play in this story over the next days and weeks. So let us join forces and spread our message – for the good of Europe and European integration.

I look forward to seeing the results of your discussions over the next two days.

Thank you.


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