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Speech by Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn to NUI Galway, 19 March 2010
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"EU Research, Innovation and Science policies are to the forefront in Supporting European and Irish Economic Recovery"

Speech by European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn,

at NUI Galway, March 19th 2010

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to address this distinguished audience in NUI Galway.

This is my first public address in Ireland since taking up office as the new European Commissioner with responsibility for Research, Innovation and Science.

I know many people who both work and study here in NUI Galway. I would like to pay tribute to James Browne, the President of NUI Galway for the great leadership and vision that he has demonstrated as the head of this university in recent times.

Some of you may know that the European Commission recently published its proposals for the new Europe 2020 Strategy.

This is an ambitious, transformational agenda, designed to turn Europe into a competitive, sustainable, socially inclusive market economy.

It is designed to cement Europe's place as one of the key economic and political players in the 21st century.

It sends out a positive message of hope and confidence in Europe's future.

I believe that it is right to strike this positive note. In times of crisis those of us in public life have a public duty to optimism.

And my optimism is not just a matter of duty – it is genuine and heartfelt. I am not blind to the difficulties we face. But I believe that Europe has the right assets to overcome the current difficulties.

Research and innovation are at the very core of the Europe 2020 Strategy. They are the only way to deliver new sources of growth and sustainable jobs to replace those that have been lost during the crisis. So, they naturally feature in every part of the document.

That means that as Research and Innovation Commissioner, I will be responsible for delivering large parts of the Strategy.

Put simply, my job is to transform Europe into a really vibrant innovation economy. To help it make the transition from economy to "i-conomy."

One of my first tasks will be to draw up a new Research and Innovation Plan, setting out how I intend to achieve this.

This plan will have to be ready by September because the EU's leaders have decided to hold a special discussion on research and innovation at their summit in the autumn.

This is yet another sign of their growing importance for our economy and society.

Let me say at this point that Europe 2020 can only succeed if there is maximum co-operation between the EU and the Member States. The old dichotomy of either Member States action or EU action must be replaced by co-ordinated and complementary actions.

In this sense, Ireland is an example for other Member States - a beacon of good practice in terms of its implementation of the Europe 2020 approach at national level.

In all the recent doom and gloom, it is easy to forget that Ireland has actually got a lot of things right in terms of its economic planning over the past decade.

It has a strong track record of sustained strategic investment in research and education.

This will stand it in good stead now as it seeks to emerge from the crisis and ensure a durable recovery.

There is huge commonality between the smart economy approach adopted by the Irish Government at the end of 2008 and the Europe 2020 strategy, not least the focus on research and innovation and environmental sustainability.

And just a few weeks ago, the Taoiseach sent President Barroso the report of the Innovation Task Force which looks at ways of turning Ireland into an international Innovation Hub.

President Barroso was delighted to receive this report. He has asked me to take an in-depth look at it, and I look forward to detailed discussions on it in the near future with representatives of the Irish Government.

Let me now outline my plans for my 5-year political mandate and the way in which I believe that they can support Irish economic recovery.

Like the Irish government, I intend to focus my policies very clearly on the so-called 'grand challenges' facing our society. By this I mean climate change, energy security, food security and the need to enhance the health and well-being of our ageing population.

The first step is to strengthen our science base and ensure that it is internationally competitive.

That is why I have since day one in my new job strongly supported the target of investing 3% of EU GDP in R&D.

I am worried that, with budgets under pressure, governments may view research and development as an easy area for cutbacks.

This would be completely the wrong reaction. We know, from the experience of countries like Finland, that R&D budgets must be maintained at times like these.

I am happy to see that, in the budgetary consolidation packages announced so far, the Irish Government has sought to do this.

And precisely because public finances are under such pressure, we must get the max out of every euro we spend.

In today's globalised world, the secret to success lies in collaboration across borders and cultures.

That is why we must have a single, unified research area in Europe, within which researchers and knowledge can move around freely.

It is known as the European Research Area, and I am determined to make it a success.

For example, I want to remove, once and for all, the pension and social security obstacles which prevent researchers from moving freely between countries.

And I want to put an end to the fragmentation of national research efforts and avoid duplication of effort.

We already have joint programming initiatives, involving several Member States, in the area of Alzheimers research. More are in the pipeline; I will pursue them with vigour.

It is vital that Member States, including Ireland, set aside sufficient resources for participation in joint programming.

Meanwhile, we must make the best possible use of European level funding instruments, including the EU Framework Programme for research – which is the biggest publicly funded research programme in the world.

Under the 7th EU Research and Technological Framework Programme 2007- 2013, Irish companies drew down 152 million Euro between the period January 2007 and October 2009.

These monies have helped small and medium sized companies, third level institutions and multi-national companies develop new technologies so that our economy can become more competitive into the future.

Successful Irish projects have secured funding to carry out research into how best to tackle cardio-vascular disease, devise new techniques to reduce the level of seizures in new born babies, further develop new programmes to replace and reduce levels of animal testing.

The Irish food sector has secured financial support to develop new dietary food products. Satellite projects are looking at how we can reduce the level of road deaths in urban and congested areas.

We are now looking forward to a mid-term evaluation of the workings of the 7th EU Research and Technological Framework Programme (FP7) which will take place this year.

This evaluation will look at the strengths and weaknesses of the existing framework programme and identify how we can improve the operation of EU research programmes into the future.

I certainly want to explore how we can improve the participation levels of small and medium sized enterprises within this EU research framework.  

When I meet different delegations and practitioners who are working in the research field, I always ask them the question what are your specific needs? 

Because it is vital that we stay in touch with the evolving needs of businesses, researchers and third level educational institutions, so that we can adapt our research policies accordingly.

Following the mid-term evaluation of this FP7 programme, we will start working out our key priorities under what will be the next research framework programme of the European Union for the period 2014 – 2020.

We must always look to the future.  We must always strive for excellence.  The benefits of new research, properly applied – can improve the quality of all our lives.  We must seize the opportunities that are presented before us.

I also want more of the 4,000 third level institutions in the EU to collaborate with industry, and to do so in an EU 27 context. Indeed, we must strengthen the links between all three sides of the knowledge triangle – higher education, business and research centres. This is a top priority for me and for President Barroso.

So, I very much welcome the fact that on February 18th last, NUI Galway and the University of Limerick put in place a strategic alliance that is working with Irish industry to further develop Ireland's biomedical device industry. This sector alone directly employs 24,000 people in Ireland.

This alliance is also increasing the level of co-operation between these two universities so as to provide a higher level of scientific and technological breakthroughs in the 'green tech' sector. 

Furthermore, earlier this week, NUI Galway, the University of Limerick, Shannon Development and Silicon Valley's Irish Technology Leadership Group announced the launch of the Shannon Energy Valley initiative, that will act as a major renewable energy hub in the Shannon region. This innovative new project will attract new investment opportunities into this region into the future in the wind, tidal, biomass, solar, geo-thermal generation facilities and related infrastructures.

This is a clear example of the steps that need to be taken if we are to develop a smart economy in Ireland and within the European Union.   

This brings me to my next point. A strong science base is a necessary pre-condition for the development of an "i-conomy" – but it is not sufficient.

We must also tackle the bottlenecks that prevent bright ideas from reaching the market.

Europe at the moment is not good at capitalising on its inventions.

For example, the technology to invent the MP3 standard for compressing audio data was invented in Europe but it was commercialised in America.

This has to change. We have to build a fully functioning 'Single Market for Innovation.'

Europe is in fact nearly level pegging with the US in terms of the number of patents registered. Yet, the cost of patents in the EU is much higher than in the US. If we could change this, if we could deliver a large and harmonised single market for services and a European venture capital market, just imagine how far ahead we could be!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all know that we live in challenging times. The problems that we face within the European Union and in Ireland are immense.

But we should reflect for a moment and fully recognise that membership of the European Union and membership of the Eurozone has been of a real assistance to Ireland during what is the worst global recession since the early 1930s.

Ireland, working as a committed, active and central member of the European Union can and will pull through the economic problems that it faces, working in partnership with the European Union.

We are in a far stronger position to address these problems by working together as a united political block of 27 member states.

With its vision of an innovation eco-system, made up of research intensive multi-national

Companies and thousands of innovative small and medium-sized companies, Ireland is in tune with the Europe 2020 Strategy, and the Strategy will add to and complement what you are trying to do here.

I am certainly committed in my own policy area to doing everything I can to foster the emergence of a true "i-conomy" in Ireland.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. We will come through this together, as difficult as it will be – and we can and will achieve our common political objectives.

Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top