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European Commission


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

The role of EU research, innovation and science policies in supporting the development of the Irish economy

Opening Speech to Seanad Éireann / Dublin

8 May 2013

A Chathaoirligh, a Sheanadóirí,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today.

Tomorrow, it will be two years to the day since I had the immense honour of addressing the Oireachtas during a special Europe Day sitting.

On that occasion I talked about where Europe might be in 2020. I focused on Ireland's role in Europe, on the many benefits of Ireland's membership of the European Union, and on the opportunities for Ireland in my own field, Research, Innovation and Science.

Now, two years later, the calendar has conspired to offer us two very clear milestones on the journey that Ireland and the European Union are taking together.

Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers for the seventh time. This is a very successful Presidency, as has been the case on previous occasions.

And 2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of the country's accession to the European Economic Community. I can think of no better circumstances for our discussions today.

The European Commission attaches huge importance to maintaining strong and close relations with national parliaments in Europe.

I regularly meet with committees from different national parliaments, including from the Oireachtas, to discuss political issues of mutual importance.

Today presents another opportunity to have an open and frank exchange of views on European matters of importance to Ireland.

Today, I will be talking about the role that European research, innovation and science policies play in helping to support the development of the Irish economy.

Research, innovation and science are the best tools and resources at our disposal to create the growth and jobs that are the priority of the Irish Presidency and of all the European Union's decision makers.

Forty years of EU membership have transformed Ireland's economy.

In 1973, we exported mainly agricultural products, now we export electronics, pharmaceuticals and services. When Ireland joined its per capita GDP was two thirds of the EU average. It is now one quarter above the average.

European programmes have played their part in that transformation.

Ireland is a net beneficiary from structural, regional, cohesion and CAP funding. Since 1993 the European Social Fund has invested nearly 4 billion Euro in training and employment.

But that's only part of the story.

Since 2007 alone, Irish universities, research organisations, companies and SMEs have received 484 million Euro from the 7th Framework Programme for Research – or FP7 – and they are on course to draw down a total of over 600 million Euro by the time the programme finishes at the end of this year.

I have no doubt that the Senators from the National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin can testify to the benefits of participating in the Research Framework Programmes, but I would like to give you a couple of specific examples.

Vornia Limited is a start-up medical device company that was spun out from an NUI Galway laboratory that conducted research on biomaterials. The company is participating in a 1.2 million Euro project to develop novel cardiovascular stents for people living with heart conditions.

With the support of EU funding, UCD is looking at how new robotic techniques can solve problems in our daily lives. Researchers at Trinity College are working to revolutionise high speed internet access. DCU is a leader in the field of diabetes research.

A grant from FP7's Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions is helping fund research at CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nano-devices at Trinity College, on the creation of atom-thin nano sheets.

These have many potential applications, including energy storage for electric cars or generating electricity from waste heat in power plants.

Trinity College is also one of the biggest partners in the N4C project funded by FP7. It has been established to deploy and test new and alternative networking technologies for areas of Europe that have poor ICT connections.

Indeed, Ireland is at the heart of Europe's digital and information and communication technology industries.

According to the industry association called ICT Ireland, 9 of the top 10 global companies maintain a presence in Ireland.

This is testimony to how well Ireland has captured foreign direct investment, in the ICT and other sectors.

But there is also a robust and successful home-grown ICT sector, built on the research base of Irish universities, companies and research institutes.

R&D and innovation are essential to maintain this strength in ICT and grow even further. But for this small country, it is not easy to achieve the necessary critical mass in research. Collaborating in EU-funded research and innovation can help plug any gaps in knowledge, resources or infrastructure. The inflow of European investment has certainly helped Ireland.

Ireland has shown a remarkable capacity to take full advantage of these investments and of European level cooperation.

According to the European Commission's annual Innovation Scoreboard, Ireland leads the 27 Member States in profiting from the economic effects of innovation, thanks to:

  • its performance in employment in knowledge intensive activities,

  • the contribution of medium and high-tech product exports to the trade balance,

  • knowledge-intensive services exports and

  • licence and patent revenues from abroad.

Yes, Ireland demonstrates a remarkable talent for innovation. But there is still much more that we can do at European level to remove barriers to boost innovation.

That is the goal of the Innovation Union Flagship, which I launched at the end of 2010.

Innovation Union aims to improve the basic conditions that will let companies grow and entrepreneurs flourish. An environment in which business large and small can prosper is essential to achieving the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that Europe desperately needs.

So we are concentrating on establishing the conditions that will smooth the path from lab to market, and lead to new products and services that people around the world want to buy.

We are making excellent progress on the 34 different commitments contained in Innovation Union.

Our innovators and businesses needed a more affordable and less unwieldy, less costly patent system, so we established the Unitary Patent.

SMEs and start-ups needed better access to finance, so we have created the European Passport venture capital fund to ease the availability of funding opportunities across Europe.

To give innovative companies a chance and get better value from public budgets, we have modernised public procurement rules to encourage the take-up of innovative products and services.

One of Innovation Union's biggest commitments is to achieve the European Research Area, or ERA.

Think of ERA as a European Single Market for research, knowledge and ideas. It aims to spread excellence by encouraging cross-border collaboration and open innovation.

The ERA initiative sets out a series of measures to enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to better move, compete and cooperate across borders.

In practice this means removing career and practical barriers to the free movement of researchers across national borders. It means reducing fragmentation and duplication in our national research systems.

It also means a number of reforms in third-level education. The European Commission has called on academia and business to improve linkages and develop more strategic partnerships, to define collaborative research agendas and optimise the use of research results.

All this will lead to better science and the better valorisation of knowledge.

We have supported the policy goals of Innovation Union and ERA through the 7th Research Framework Programme, but next year FP7 and all the other European level measures in research and innovation will be replaced by a single new programme: Horizon 2020.

I was determined from the outset that Horizon 2020 should fundamentally reform how we finance research and innovation at the European level, and I was determined that it should support growth and jobs.

While Horizon 2020 increases support for excellent research in Europe – including through the very successful European Research Council, there is a greater focus on innovation and economic impact.

In line with Innovation Union's goals, Horizon 2020 will provide a coherent set of funding instruments and practical support along the entire innovation chain, from basic research to close-to-market actions.

The programme has also been designed to make our support for research and innovation simpler, more efficient and more effective at delivering the major impacts that we need to boost growth and jobs and to tackle societal challenges such as climate change, health or energy security.

Compared to previous programmes, Horizon 2020 will slash red tape to free up researchers and innovators to do their jobs. To make life simpler for SMEs there will be a single, comprehensive instrument adapted to their needs.

The negotiations between the European institutions on the EU Budget (or the Multi Annual Financial Framework in Euro-speak) for the period 2014 - 2020, including Horizon 2020, are going well and during the last trilogue discussions concrete progress was made on a number of provisions.

There are issues that require further discussion, but I am confident of the outcome, and I remain fully committed to continuing our work together with the European Parliament and the Member States to obtain a timely adoption of the Horizon 2020 package.

We need Horizon 2020 as a declaration of Europe's intention to keep investing in the knowledge economy.

While 5 million jobs were lost in the EU between 2008 and 2010, the number of jobs in the knowledge economy increased by 800,000.

The EU Member States with a high research and innovation intensity, the ones that spent more than 2.5% of their GDP on research and innovation in 2011, had an average unemployment rate of 6.6% in October 2012.

And the countries at the other end of the scale, who invested less than 1.5% of GDP in research and innovation in 2011 - their unemployment rate was more than double that of the innovation-intense countries, at 13.8%.

Up to 2011, a majority of the 27 EU Member States managed to maintain or increase their public R&D investment, despite pressures on budgets. But, worryingly, in 2011, fewer countries managed to do so, and overall public spending on R&D decreased for the first time since the crisis.

We need to maintain R&D investments in Europe, but we also need to get better value for money. We know that the research sector is underperforming in some Member States and that some produce more science and technology excellence and innovation than others with the same investment.

In my view, the reform of the European Research Area is one of the critical structural reforms for growth.

As Ireland demonstrates, a top class research base is one of the biggest draws for foreign investment. In fact, foreign direct investment in R&D is holding up.

The United States, which accounts for two thirds of internationally mobile R&D investment, is holding firm: American companies invest ten times as much in R&D in Europe per year as they do in China and in India combined.

So, there are convincing reasons to keep investing in the drivers of growth and jobs – education, research and innovation – and Horizon 2020 will be an important factor in the equation.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tomorrow, 9 May, is Europe Day.

Perhaps if we look back and see how far Ireland has come in 40 years it will give us reason to celebrate. And it will give us confidence that we will make as much progress again in the coming decades.

EU membership has transformed the way we live and work. It has nurtured new industries and renewed old ones. It has spurred infrastructural development in our cities and our countryside. It has secured fundamental rights and freedoms and helped protect our environment. It has made life a little fairer for women.

As a member of the EU, Ireland is part of the Single Market, which comprises 500 million people and where there is free movement of goods, persons, services and capital across 27 different member states. That provides a huge market for the export of Irish goods and services that are key to economic recovery.

We are going through difficult times, but Europe and Ireland can and will come out stronger.

The European Union has to deliver economic recovery if it is to prove its continued relevance to everyone in Europe. This is both a political and a communications challenge.

As I said in my recent speech here in Dublin on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of EU Membership, we cannot have a Europe of the haves and the have-nots.

We know what our challenges are at a national and at a European level and we have to address the pressing political problems that we face in a spirit of determination, co-operation and solidarity.


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