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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
"Successful R&I in Europe 2013"
5th European Networking Event/Düsseldorf
7 March 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for your very warm welcome to Düsseldorf. It is a pleasure to be back. I was last here in April 2011 for the award of the North Rhine-Westphalia prize for EU-funded research projects.
During that visit, I had the chance to see for myself some excellent research and innovation work in the region, and this time I will have the chance to see some excellent institutes and start-ups in Aachen.
I would like to thank Minister Schulze and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research for organising this conference and for inviting me to speak.
I place great importance on getting information about Horizon 2020 out to researchers and innovators, businesses and research organisations in the Member States.
So I would also like to give special thanks to the National Contact Points from the Member States that are participating today and that do such good work day in day out.
I will take the opportunity today to talk about Horizon 2020, of course, but I would also like to mention two major policy initiatives that are linked: Innovation Union and the European Research Area.
In June 2010, Europe's leaders endorsed the Europe 2020 strategy, our roadmap to get the European economy back on track.
At the heart of this strategy is the conviction that we need research and innovation to build long-term sustainable growth. That is what Horizon 2020 is all about.
It represents a radical change from the previous Research Framework Programmes because for the first time, it brings together all EU funding for research and innovation under one roof.
Horizon 2020 will make it easier to participate in EU-funded research and innovation actions, it will increase scientific and economic impact and it will give the taxpayer better value for money – this is particularly important today where every euro counts.
Fiscal consolidation and structural reform are necessary but they are not sufficient to secure Europe’s global competitiveness. We have learned from experience that counter-cyclical investments in R&D can speed up the return to growth.
In the United States in the 1980's – and in Finland and South Korea in the 1990's – massive investments in R&D were instrumental in leading these economies out of crisis.
As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, Member States committed to increasing R&D spending in the EU to 3% of our GDP by 2020.
However, the latest statistics show that we have still some way to go: the current level is just over 2%.
Moreover, total public R&D investments of the 27 Member States fell slightly between 2010 and 2011. This is the first time we have seen such a fall since the beginning of the economic crisis and there are also growing disparities in the research and innovation performance of Member States and regions.
We have also seen, however, that leading knowledge and innovation economies are weathering the economic crisis better. One example is Germany, with its high R&D spending of 2.8% of GDP and its sound economic performance.
Just as there is a correlation between a person's skills level and their employability; so we can also see a clear link between a country's research and innovation intensity and its employment rate.
In October 2012, those Member States that had invested less than 1.5% of GDP in research and innovation during 2011 had, on average, more than double the unemployment rates of the countries that had invested more than 2.5%.
It is clear that investing now in the support of education, research and innovation will secure jobs and growth in the future.
Horizon 2020 is the European Union's response to this need to invest in our economy, and from next year it will provide huge opportunities for researchers and innovators to collaborate across Europe.
I think that the proposals for Horizon 2020 strike the right balance between fundamental and applied research, and between research and innovation. It is structured around three distinct, but mutually reinforcing pillars.
The first pillar, 'Excellence in the science base' will support frontier or basic research, the bedrock of future growth and wellbeing. We have proposed a significant increase in support to the extremely successful European Research Council, which in six years has already become a gold standard for research.
The second pillar, 'Creating industrial leadership and competitive frameworks, will support business research and innovation, including investment in Key Enabling Technologies – such as ICT, nanotechnology and biotechnology - and support for innovation in SMEs.
The third pillar, 'Tackling societal challenges', will focus on tackling the major challenges in our society, such as: health, demographic change and well-being; food security and the bio-based economy; secure, clean and efficient energy, and resource efficiency and climate action.
I am sure that most of you are already familiar with this basic structure. So, I want to tell you a little more about the ethos behind Horizon 2020 and the new actions that it will introduce to support both research and innovation.
Horizon 2020 means simplification. Since we want our scientists and innovators to spend more time in the lab or workshop, and less time filling in forms, we are slashing red-tape to make it easier to access financing.
The programme has a simpler structure with simpler rules. And we have set the goal of reducing the average time to grant by 100 days so that successful applicants can get working more quickly.
One of the most important new developments is that Horizon 2020 will integrate research and innovation. It will do this by providing seamless and coherent funding from idea to market, helping innovative businesses to turn their technological breakthroughs into viable products with real commercial potential.
This means more funding for testing, prototyping, demonstration and pilot type activities; for business-driven R&D; promoting entrepreneurship and risk-taking; and, shaping demand for innovative products and services through standard-setting and public procurement.
And, while tackling societal challenges under the third pillar is an important policy goal in itself, there is at the same time a strong focus on creating business opportunities out of our response to the major issues that concern people in Europe.
To make life easier for SMEs in particular, there will be a single comprehensive programme adapted to their needs, inspired by the successful SBIR programme in the US. This SME instrument will cover the whole innovation cycle in three distinct, but seamlessly connected stages, including links to private finance.
There will also be new financing instruments aimed at innovative, high-growth companies. Finance for riskier projects has all but dried up in Europe, so we need to fill that gap. The Risk Sharing Finance Facility, or RSFF, has already generated extra lending worth 15 times what we put into it. That is a very smart use of public money, so we want to build on it.
Horizon 2020's focus on excellence will be complemented by measures to ensure that the programme is open to the widest possible range of participants, including newcomers. Talent will be nurtured to grow into excellence, so that innovators and researchers from all over Europe can benefit.
Under Horizon 2020, we are proposing actions to close the innovation divide in Europe, for example by twinning existing and emerging centres of excellence; attracting outstanding academics to institutions with a strong potential through the new European Research Area Chairs, and by supporting smart specialisation and international networking.
We have also been careful to suggest practical links between the research and cohesion programmes, with greater harmonisation of financial rules, and it will be possible to combine funding from Horizon 2020 and the cohesion funds for the same project.
Taken together, these policy actions and practical steps will help regions to climb the "stairway to excellence" and maximise their opportunities to develop their research and innovation capacity.
As you can see, Horizon 2020 is all about helping a wide range of different research and innovation actors to make a difference to our economy and society.
I have been determined from the outset that a bigger role and bigger budget for research and innovation at the European level should be accompanied by reform of how we invest this money. It is not only about more, but also about better spending, hence the drive for simplification and a focus on the entire value chain from initial research to innovative products.
This focus on the "lab-to-market" innovation chain is very deliberate. It goes to the heart of our competitiveness, and provides the necessary support for Innovation Union, the Europe 2020 flagship initiative launched in October 2010.
Innovation Union aims to provide the conditions that allow scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and companies to flourish. Innovation Union underlines the importance of excellent research and one of its main ambitions is to remove any obstacles that prevent innovators from transforming this research into new products, processes and services.
We are making very good progress on the 34 commitments contained in Innovation Union, including on key issues such as the European passport for venture capital funds, the unitary patent, and modernised public procurement rules.
Another Innovation Union commitment is to complete the European Research Area – or ERA - Europe's single market for knowledge.
The aim of ERA is unambiguous: increasing competition and cooperation amongst Member States' research systems, whilst promoting the free circulation of researchers and scientific knowledge.
While we have made some progress since ERA was first launched in 2000, researchers still complain about a range of barriers to their careers.
They cannot take their grants across borders. Their pensions are not portable. Recruitment to top positions is not always based on merit. Career structures are not transparent enough. It's no wonder that so many of our top researchers are leaving Europe.
Meanwhile, there is a scandalous waste of female talent. National funding is not always allocated on a competitive basis. And it's difficult to get cross-border projects off the ground.
That is why the Commission launched the European Research Area Framework last July. I am optimistic that we can make faster progress now than in the past. The European Council has set a deadline for completing ERA by 2014; that will concentrate minds.
We have also launched a reinforced partnership with Member States. It has been extended to include research stakeholder organisations.
Indeed, the Commission has signed Memoranda of Understanding with some of the biggest academic and research bodies. These are not empty declarations of intentions; they contain clear commitments. It's a new way of working and I am convinced that it can produce results.
ERA will generate excellence by opening up national funding to pan-European competition, and at the same time, increasing cross-border co-operation. That's what excellent scientists want – to compete and cooperate.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before I finish, I'd like to mention the next steps for Horizon 2020.
In November last year the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee was near unanimous in its adoption of three reports on the Horizon 2020 package, dealing with the overarching Framework Programme Regulation; the Specific Programme Decision, and the Regulation on the detailed Rules for Participation. There was also a big majority for a fourth report on the Regulation for Euratom.
The European Council has also adopted what are called "Partial General Approaches", that is agreement between the Member States on issues besides the budget, on the Framework Programme, Specific Programme and Rules for Participation.
Following the ITRE vote on the Horizon 2020 package and the three Partial General Approaches reached by Council, the inter-institutional negotiations on Horizon 2020 - known as "trialogues" have started.
The objective is to reach consensus this year so as to launch the first calls under Horizon 2020.
And what about the money?
Discussion about the EU's future budget, including for Horizon 2020, dominated the headlines at the beginning of the year.
It is encouraging, though, that at the Summit in February, Member States highlighted the particular contribution of Horizon 2020 to the Europe 2020 strategy.
Despite the fact that the budget levels agreed by the Heads of State and Government are below what the Commission considers desirable, the deal can still be an important catalyst for growth and jobs.
This political agreement opens the way for the Council to negotiate with the Parliament to obtain its consent, and to keep preparations on track for the launch of the new programmes in 2014.
As regards Horizon 2020, a successful outcome of this process is crucial as we must offer solid, long term perspectives to researchers and investors worldwide that will convince them that working and investing in Europe now is the right choice.
With an appropriate Horizon 2020 budget, we can send a strong signal of our shared commitment to stay a world class player in research and innovation actor.
But we can only maintain that position with your continued hard work and dedication.
Horizon 2020 presents many opportunities. It has been designed with you in mind.
And together with far-reaching reforms in Member States, we are, together, producing world-beating conditions for our researchers and innovators. I know that we will seize these opportunities!