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
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
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
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
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
It has a strong track record of sustained strategic investment in research
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
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
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
For example, I want to remove, once and for all, the pension and social
security obstacles which prevent researchers from moving freely between
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
When I meet different delegations and practitioners who are working in the
research field, I always ask them the question what are your specific
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
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
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
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
We must also tackle the bottlenecks that prevent bright ideas from reaching
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
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
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