Science, technology and digital society statistics introduced

Latest update of text: February 2017. Planned article update: July 2018.

European Union (EU) statistics in the fields of science, technology and innovation cover a range of issues, most notably: research and development (R & D) statistics, innovation statistics and statistics on human resources in science and technology.

EU statistics on the digital society mainly come from a pair of surveys relating to information and communication technologies (ICT) usage, one of which focuses on households and individuals while the other focuses on enterprises. Statistics on the digital society benchmark ICT-driven advances: these annual surveys follow developments for a core set of variables over time and look in greater depth at other aspects and developing new technologies at a specific point in time. While the surveys initially concentrated on access and connectivity issues, their scope has subsequently been extended to cover socioeconomic analyses (for example, regional diversity, gender specificity, age, educational attainment differences or an individual’s employment situation) in the household survey, an analysis by enterprise size class (small, medium-sized and large) in the enterprise survey, or a variety of other subjects (for example, the use of e-business, social media, e-government and e-commerce).

Science and technology

Science is part of almost every aspect of our lives: at the flick of a switch, we have light; when we are ill, medicines help us get better; when we want to talk to a friend we just pick up the telephone or send a text message or e-mail. The EU has a long tradition of excellence in research and innovation. The EU is a global player in a range of cutting-edge industrial sectors, for example, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications or aerospace.

R & D is often considered as one of the driving forces behind growth and job creation. However, its influence extends well beyond the economic sphere, as it can potentially — among others — resolve environmental or international security threats, ensure safer food, or lead to the development of new medicines to prevent and fight illness and disease.

International statistics

Official EU statistics on science and technology provide a leading example of cooperation activities between international statistical organisations. In the domain of R & D statistics a joint survey produced by the OECD and Eurostat is used, which is based on the collection of information following guidelines laid out in the Frascati manual.

Within the domain of innovation statistics, Eurostat conducts a Community innovation survey, which is based on the guidelines laid out within the Oslo manual (jointly produced with other European Commission services and the OECD).

Innovation union and the European innovation scoreboard

In October 2010, the European Commission launched a Europe 2020 flagship initiative titled ‘Innovation union’ (COM(2010) 546 final) which sets out a strategic approach to a range of challenges like climate change, energy and food security, health and an ageing population. The innovation union aims to: make the EU a world-class performer in science with initiatives that seek to use public sector intervention to stimulate the private sector, removing bottlenecks which stop ideas reaching the market (such as access to finance, fragmented research systems and markets, under-use of public procurement for innovation, and speeding-up harmonised standards and technical specifications). To do so, innovation partnerships are seen as a ground-breaking proposal, designed to tackle the major challenges facing society and to help the EU reach its innovation potential more quickly.

The European innovation scoreboard is used to monitor the implementation of the innovation union. This tool aims to provide a comparative assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of national innovation systems across the EU Member States and also provides data for a range of non-member countries. The scoreboard tracks a broad range of innovation indicators, including educational standards, R & D expenditure, patent production and business innovation.

Horizon 2020 — the framework programme

While most research within the EU is funded nationally by private and public sources, since their launch in 1984, the EU’s framework programmes for research have played a leading role in multidisciplinary research activities.

Horizon 2020 is the framework programme for research and innovation for the period running from 2014 through to 2020, building upon the seventh framework programme for research and technological development (FP7), the competitiveness and innovation framework programme (CIP) and the European institute of innovation and technology (EIT). By coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 emphasises excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. The goal is to ensure the EU produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together to deliver innovation. This framework programme will be complemented by further measures to complete and further develop the European Research Area (ERA). These measures will aim to break down barriers to create a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation. In December 2013, Regulation 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon 2020 was adopted along with Council Regulation (Euratom) 1314/2013 on the research and training programme of the European Atomic Energy Community, together making up Horizon 2020. These were accompanied by further legislation concerning, for example:

  • the rules for participation;
  • the specific programme (setting out objectives and implementation rules, the duration of the programme and the means deemed necessary) for Horizon 2020;
  • and amendments concerning the EIT.

The total budget for Horizon 2020 is EUR 80 billion, with close to two fifths (39 %) planned for work related to societal challenges, close to one third (32 %) for work related to excellent science (mainly through the European Research Council), and more than one fifth (22 %) for work related to industrial leadership. Work programmes cover two years: the current work programme is for 2016 and 2017.

European Research Area (ERA)

The ERA was launched at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000. It aims to ensure open and transparent trade in scientific and technical skills, ideas and know-how. Europe’s research efforts are often described as being fragmented along national and institutional lines. Indeed, individual EU Member States may find it difficult to play a leading role in important areas of scientific and technological advance as research is increasingly complex, interdisciplinary and expensive.

The ERA was given new impetus in April 2007 with the European Commission’s Green paper on the European Research Area: new perspectives (COM(2007) 161 final). In May 2008, the ERA was re-launched as part of what has become known as the Ljubljana process, including specific initiatives for five different areas: researchers’ careers and mobility; research infrastructures; knowledge sharing; research programmes; and international science and technology cooperation. As a result, in the years through to 2020, the ERA will aim to establish a single European labour market for researchers, as well as single markets for knowledge and for innovative goods and services. Furthermore, the ERA should aim to: encourage trust and dialogue between society and the scientific and technological community; benefit from a strong publicly-supported research and technology base and world-class research infrastructures and capacities across the EU; provide for the joint design of research, education and innovation policies; address major challenges through strategic partnerships; and enable the EU to speak with one voice to its main international partners.

International cooperation forms an integral part of the EU’s scientific policy, which includes programmes to enhance the EU’s access to worldwide scientific expertise, attract top scientists to work in the EU, contribute to international responses to shared problems, and put research at the service of EU external and development policies. In December 2008, the Competitiveness Council adopted a 2020 vision for the ERA, which foresees the introduction of a ‘fifth freedom’ for the EU’s internal market — namely, the free circulation of researchers, knowledge and technology.

In July 2012, a Communication from the European Commission titled ‘A reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth’ (COM(2012) 392 final) was released. This aims to promote a significant improvement in the EU’s research performance, stimulating growth and job creation.

In May 2015, the ERA Roadmap 2015–2020 was adopted: its purpose is to identify a limited number of key implementation priorities which are likely to have the biggest impact on the EU’s science, research and innovation systems. The priorities include: effective national research systems; jointly addressing grand challenges; making optimal use of public investments in research infrastructures; an open labour market for researchers; gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research; optimal circulation and transfer of scientific knowledge; and international cooperation.

Open innovation, open science and open to the world

Research and innovation policy has been reinvigorated by focusing it on three strategic priorities as part of a vision for Europe: open innovation, open science and open to the world. These priorities reinforce existing programmes, such as Horizon 2020, and reinvigorate existing policies such as the European Research Area. The basic premise of the open innovation strategic priority is to introduce more actors in the innovation process so that knowledge can circulate more freely and be transformed into products and services that create new markets, fostering a stronger culture of entrepreneurship.

The Amsterdam call for action on open science proposed 12 actions to contribute to the transition towards open science, based on two goals — full open access for all scientific publications and a fundamentally new approach towards optimal reuse of research data — and two policies — new assessment, reward and evaluation systems and the alignment of policies and exchange of best practice.

An open science policy platform was established in 2016 to advise the European Commission on how to further develop and practically implement open science policy and in general to provide advice and recommendations on any cross-cutting issues affecting open science. The European open science cloud aims to create a trusted environment for hosting and processing research data to support EU science. It aims to integrate existing networks, data and high-performance computing systems and e-infrastructure services across scientific fields, within a framework of shared policies, standards and investments. Similarly, the open research data pilot aims to make the research data generated by selected Horizon 2020 projects accessible with as few restrictions as possible, while at the same time protecting sensitive data from inappropriate access.

Fostering international cooperation in research and innovation is a strategic priority for the EU in order to access the latest knowledge and the best talent worldwide, tackle global societal challenges more effectively, create business opportunities in new and emerging markets, and use science diplomacy as an influential instrument of external policy. As part of its open to the world strategic priority, the European Commission encourages further engagement in global scientific cooperation and the internationalisation of programmes.

Research, Innovation, and Science Policy Experts (RISE)

The European Commission set up the research, innovation and science policy experts (RISE) group in June 2014 and renewed its mandate in January 2016. RISE is structured along the three strategic priorities (open innovation, open science and open to the world) with additional reflection on economic impact building through open knowledge markets. The group is divided into four sub-groups.

  • The open innovation advisory group works in particular on concepts for the European Innovation Council, on the use of financial instruments for innovation support, and on the interplay between regulation and innovation.
  • The open science advisory group works on how to create a culture for open science to flourish, by removing barriers and promoting incentives in research funding, career advancement and publishing, and by embedding open access, open data and research integrity.
  • The open to the world advisory group works on science diplomacy and international cooperation for global challenges and contributes to strengthening the international dimension across research and innovation policies.
  • The open knowledge markets advisory group works on the economic impact of research and innovation, including new concepts and the measurement of innovation, and the regulatory framework for research and innovation.

Innovation and industrial policy

The EU also promotes innovation through its industrial policy ‘Towards an industrial renaissance’. The Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs seeks to: support innovation development in priority areas and in SMEs; foster the broad commercialisation of innovation in the EU; develop sector specific policies to modernise the EU’s industrial base and accelerate the market uptake of new technologies; monitor innovation performance and innovation uptake; improve regulatory conditions for innovation; support the development and cooperation of clusters to boost SME innovation; foster the commercialisation of innovative products and services through demand-side measures such as public procurement in innovation. A number of key actions have been instigated including strategies to promote innovation in the following areas: key enabling technologies (KETs), clean vehicles and transport, bio-based products, construction and raw materials or smart grids.

Digital society

Information and communication technologies (ICT) affect people’s everyday lives in many ways, both at work and in the home, for example when communicating or buying online. ICT has been one of the main drivers of changes within society and businesses for more than a decade.

A digital single market

The policy context for ICT is a European Commission Communication concerning ‘A digital agenda for Europe’ (COM(2010) 245 final/2), which presented a strategy to promote a thriving digital economy in the EU by 2020. The digital agenda for Europe is one of seven flagships initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The agenda outlines seven priority areas for action including the creation of a digital single market.

Indeed, one of the 10 main priorities of the College of Commissioners that entered into office in 2014 is to focus on the creation of a digital single market, with the objectives of: establishing common data protection rules, reforming regulation concerning telecommunications, copyright and online purchases by consumers; making it easier for innovators to start their own company; boosting digital skills and learning. A long-term strategy for the digital single market was proposed by the European Commission in a Communication (COM(2015) 192 final) in May 2015, based on the development of three broad policy pillars:

  • promoting better online access to goods and services across the EU;
  • designing an optimal environment for digital networks and services to develop;
  • ensuring that the EU’s economy and industry take full advantage of the digital economy as a potential driver for growth.

Concerning the promotion of better online access, the digital single market initiative will seek to remove the key differences between online and offline worlds, breaking down barriers to cross-border online activity and cross-border e-commerce; it will also encourage a more efficient and affordable parcel delivery service across the EU. Proposals in this area will also focus on putting an end to unjustified geo-blocking (a practice used for commercial reasons to instigate the denial of access to websites), will review satellite and cable legislation to facilitate the cross-border distribution of television and radio programmes, and will look at ways of reducing the VAT burden in this domain.

The European Commission seeks to design rules which may keep abreast with the rapid pace of technological change so that digital networks and services may prosper, encouraging high-speed, secure and trustworthy infrastructures and services supported by the right regulatory conditions. Initiatives in this area include: an overhaul of telecom rules (there will be no extra charges for roaming within the EU as of 15 June 2017); a so-called connectivity package (faster and higher quality connectivity); a plan to foster EU leadership in 5th generation (5G) wireless technology; a review of the audio-visual media framework; reinforcing trust and security in digital services and in the handling of personal data; promoting a partnership with industry on cybersecurity.

Within the pillar dedicated to using digital technologies as a driver for growth, the European Commission focuses its activities on ensuring full advantage is taken of what digitalisation can offer, maximising the EU’s economic growth potential and ensuring that every EU citizen can enjoy its full benefits. Initiatives within this pillar include addressing barriers in the data economy, launching a European Cloud initiative, defining priorities for standards and interoperability, supporting an inclusive digital society; and promoting an e-government plan such that citizens will have to enter their data once only for interactions with public administrations.

By doing so, the digital single market strategy aims to enhance the EU’s position as a world leader in the digital economy, whereby the free movement of people, services and capital is ensured, as individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition, and a high level of consumer and personal data protection. During 2017 the European Commission plans to advance swiftly on proposals that have already been put forward and to undertake a review of the progress made towards completing the digital single market.

Data protection

At the start of 2017, the European Commission provided details of a proposal for a Regulation concerning the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications (COM(2017) 10 final) to ensure stronger privacy in relation to e-mails and social media activities, while opening up new business opportunities. The proposals extend to other areas, for example, simpler rules allowing users to control cookies, increased protection against spam, or protection against voice marketing calls.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Main tables


Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

External links