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European Commission


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

"How EU research and innovation policies are positively developing the regions of Europe"

Conference "Week of Innovative Regions in Europe" (WIRE IV) / Cork

6 June 2013


Minister Sherlock,

First of all, I wish to thank the Irish Presidency for organising this fourth edition of the Week of Innovative Regions in Europe, following WIRE I in Granada, WIRE II in Debrecen and WIRE III in Krakow last year.

WIRE has now become a very important fixture in Europe's research and innovation calendar, and long may this continue.

I'm pleased that, by coming to Cork, WIRE IV maintains the tradition of taking the high-level debate out of the capital and into the regions themselves, emphasising the underlying regional focus of our work.

WIRE IV is building on the work of the previous conferences to present both the challenges and opportunities for developing innovation in our regions.

We're meeting at a key moment - just when the European Parliament and the Council are moving closer to agreeing the future legal frameworks for the EU's research and innovation and cohesion policies, on the basis of the Commission's proposals.

So it's only appropriate for this conference to focus on the regional aspects of Horizon 2020 and Cohesion Policy.

There will be more and more opportunities for complementarity and synergies between these sources of funding and I encourage all Member States and regions to exploit them to the full.

I am sure that the three broad themes of WIRE IV – Regions and Competitive Advantage; Regional Policy in an International Context and Putting Strategies to Work – will stimulate wide-ranging and interesting discussions.

I would like to begin this morning by considering the challenges that we all face in developing research and innovation policy – whether at the regional, national or EU levels – at a time of great economic difficulty.

As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, Member States are committed to increasing R&D spending in the EU to 3% of GDP by 2020.

However, the latest statistics show that there is still some way to go: the current level is just over 2%.

Moreover, total public R&D investments in the 27 Member States fell slightly between 2010 and 2011. This was the first decline 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 the leading knowledge and innovation economies have weathered the economic crisis better.

Horizon 2020 is the European Union's response to this need to keep investing in the sources of jobs and growth, and from next year it will provide huge opportunities for researchers and innovators to collaborate across Europe.

Of course, there is little point in maintaining or increasing investment in research and innovation if we fail to ensure that the money is spent in the most efficient way possible, and aimed at producing the biggest impacts.

So, besides action at the European level, we also need the efforts of Member States and regions to complete the European Research Area and to improve the quality and economic impact of the research we finance.

The key priorities for completing the European Research Area are set out in the Commission Communication adopted in July 2012, just after WIRE III took place.

We need to reform our research systems to make them much more effective, and Member States need to ensure that funding is allocated on a competitive basis to the best and most productive researchers and research teams. This is certainly the ethos of Horizon 2020 at European level, where excellence in research is the over-riding criterion.

We also need to make it easier for our best scientists to work together, irrespective of borders, by improving transnational co-operation and transnational competition.

This means removing any technical barriers that prevent joint actions from getting off the ground, raising quality through Europe-wide open competition, and constructing and running key research infrastructures effectively.

Achieving ERA will also mean creating an open labour market for researchers. We want to ensure that researchers can move as freely between Granada and Debrecen, or Krakow and Cork as between Boston and New York.

This means making research grants and pensions portable across borders and ensuring that recruitment to academic positions is fair, transparent and merit-based.

We also need to ensure equality between men and women in research careers, putting an end to the scandalous waste of female talent.

The Commission is closely monitoring progress on these and the other issues that will make or break ERA. At the request of the Member States, we will present our first progress report to the European Council meeting this coming October. We will certainly highlight good practice, but we won't be afraid to say where progress is slow.

Horizon 2020 will be a very valuable tool both to increase investment in research and innovation and to make the European Research Area a reality.

As most of you already know, Horizon 2020 is structured around three key pillars. The first pillar aims to increase the excellence of European research, including through the work of the renowned European Research Council.

Pillar two focuses on industrial leadership, with actions to make Europe a more attractive place for businesses to invest in R&D and innovation, while the third pillar is focused on tackling societal challenges.

New answers to our biggest challenges will only come from ground-breaking research and innovation that brings together the best minds from across Europe, from universities, companies, public organisations and civil society.

Horizon 2020 will provide the financial means to do this, while the European Research Area will ensure the free movement of researchers and knowledge that will help us reach this goal.

Turning now to the regional dimension of research and innovation, I would like to highlight two key issues: the role of cohesion policy and smart specialisation, and the actions under Horizon 2020 to help close the innovation divide and widen participation.

There is no denying that we have a considerable research and innovation divide in Europe.

It is a divide that persists despite previous efforts to reduce it. There are big national and regional disparities in terms of research and innovation performance and this is immediately reflected in terms of the competitiveness of our countries and regions.

For example, data from the 2012 Regional Innovation Scoreboard show that 'moderate' and 'modest' innovators are mainly found in eastern and southern Europe, indicating that some countries and regions are not yet exploiting their full potential.

There are several reasons for these disparities, mostly related to structural deficits such as lack of research investment, insufficient capacity-building, the structure of a country's industries and the profile of its companies, as well as lack of access to international networks.

The structural nature of these problems means that they can't be solved through Horizon 2020 alone. The issues of course need to be addressed too at national and regional levels and by using other instruments, such as the European Structural and Investment Funds, or ESIF, the new name for the Structural Funds.

A key way for countries and regions to bridge the research and innovation divide is to develop smart specialisation strategies that build on their respective strengths. In fact, the existence of a smart specialisation strategy is a precondition for receiving future support for research and innovation under the ESIF.

Smart specialisation strategies should ensure that there is both the appropriate capacity in the research system and compatibility between European, national and regional structures in order to improve the chances of successfully obtaining competitive EU funding.

The Smart Specialisation Platform, as well as experts funded by the European Commission, are helping the Member States and regions to prepare their strategies. The 'Cohesion DGs', led by the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, are already in discussion with the Member States on the preparation of their Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes.

One thing that we have seen in successive EU framework programmes is that many places in Europe are underperforming on research, both in terms of their overall output, and in terms of their participation in EU funded programmes.

I want to make sure that no Member State or region is left behind. It makes good research sense and good economic sense to have participants from the four corners of Europe in our programmes.

So we have planned specific actions within Horizon 2020 to help close the innovation divide and widen participation.

The measures I particularly want to highlight are the innovative scheme to establish European Research Area Chairs, and funding to encourage the 'Twinning' and 'Teaming' of institutions across Europe.

The 'ERA Chairs' initiative aims to attract outstanding academics to institutions with a clear potential for research excellence, in order to help these institutions fully unlock this potential. Ultimately, this can help create a more level playing field for research and innovation in Europe.

We are already testing the ERA Chairs concept, before the launch of Horizon 2020. A pilot call for proposals closed just a few days ago, on 30 May. I'm very pleased to report that we have had an excellent response, with 111 proposals, coming from all the eligible Member States.

Twinning aims to significantly strengthen a specific field of research in an emerging institution by linking it to at least two leading international institutions.

Teaming aims to create new centres of excellence, or significantly upgrade existing ones, in regions that are performing poorly in terms of R&D and innovation. The idea is to team up with a leading counterpart institution elsewhere in Europe.

Finally, as this WIRE IV conference follows directly on from yesterday's meeting of the National Delegates Forum of ESFRI, I would like to say just a few words about importance of research infrastructures.

Turning the 48 initiatives highlighted by the ESFRI roadmap into reality is high on the political agenda thanks to Innovation Union, which set us the target of making 60% of the ESFRI projects a reality by 2015.

I am glad to say that we are making good progress towards that goal.

For example, by using the ESFRI Roadmap as a blueprint, most European countries – including Ireland – have completed their national roadmap exercises and have allocated funding for them.

With the support of the European Commission, more than forty ESFRI projects have already started preparing their implementation phase.

Our analysis shows that the more innovative and the more competitive a region is, the more likely it is to host an ESFRI initiative.

We also found that hosting a research infrastructure of pan-European relevance has a very positive impact on a region.

So it's clear that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between a competitive and innovative region and the scientific installations to be found there.

The European Commission has been encouraging the regions to make the most of these opportunities and to proactively address research infrastructures in their smart specialisation strategies.

More broadly, 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have a very full agenda over the next two days. Once again, let me express my thanks to the Irish Presidency, including Imelda Lambkin and her team, as well as to everyone in the European Commission for all the work that I know has gone into organising this event.

I very much look forward to hearing your recommendations on how to increase the impact of research and innovation across the EU at every level.

This means working together to achieve the goals of Innovation Union and of the European Research Area. It means successfully capitalising on the opportunities provided by Horizon 2020 and the ESIF, in particular through smart specialisation and actions to close the innovation divide.

By definition, excellence cannot be everywhere.

But I am convinced that it can develop anywhere in Europe. I know that the regions of Europe will prove me right!

I wish you all a very enjoyable and productive conference.

Thank you for your attention.

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