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Address by Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, 29 June 2010
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Address by Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs,

Dublin 29 June 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure - and an honour - to be back in the Oireachtas in my new role as European Commissioner.

I believe that political dialogue between the Oireachtas and the European Commission should become a regular feature at all levels.

These are testing times for Ireland. Families and communities across the country are feeling the effects of the recession. But I am confident that Ireland will recover. We have experienced many difficult periods in our history. Indeed, periods much more difficult than this one. We have always emerged strengthened from these periods. I am sure that it will be the same this time.

I am not alone in this view. Only recently, Nouriel Rabini, one of the few economists who predicted the crisis, said he saw light at the end of the tunnel for Ireland. And there are already signs of improvement; the OECD and Commission are forecasting 3% growth in 2011 – double the euro zone average.

Most agree that the Irish government is taking the right steps to address the situation, painful though those steps might be. And, despite its difficulties, Ireland has a flexible, entrepreneurial and dynamic economy.

Indeed, my faith is founded in the nature of the Irish people. They have all the characteristics needed to build a smart economy. Ireland must now harness the talents of its people to drive entrepreneurship and innovation. If it can do this, I have no doubt that it will be successful.

And, of course, the European Union is there to support Irish recovery. This European Commission has lost no time in getting down to business. We were nominated on November 29th last year. Following confirmation hearings in the European Parliament, we took up office on February 15th this year. Our proposal for the Europe 2020 Strategy appeared just over a month later.

And two weeks ago, European leaders gave it their full endorsement.

Europe 2020 aims to strengthen economic governance. At the moment, EU coordination occurs once national budgets have already been set. Under the new plans, it would happen much earlier – at the planning stage. This is controversial, but it is necessary to avoid a repeat of the recent difficulties in the euro zone.

Europe 2020 is an ambitious, transformational agenda, designed to turn Europe into a smart, sustainable and socially inclusive market economy. At the core of the Europe 2020 strategy is the creation of cleaner, greener and smarter jobs. We must innovate quickly if we are to both create and maintain jobs and remain competitive into the future.

With budgets being cut across Europe, and unemployment at crisis levels, we desperately need new private sector growth. This growth will not come from the same sectors as before. We need to identify new growth sectors and start investing in them right away.

Innovation – as the report from your own committee on Europe 2020 points out – is one of the best ways of delivering the new sources of growth we need. That is why, of the seven Flagships around which Europe 2020 is built, the Innovation Union, for which I am responsible, is one of the most important.

I know from political experience that widespread consultation is the key to developing any successful policy initiative.

That is why, on top of a formal consultation procedure, in accordance with European Commission rules, I have also talked personally to a wide range of organisations from the social, business, investment and voluntary sectors seeking their advice as to what should be included in the Innovation Union.

I have consulted with a variety of different EU governments on its contents. I welcome, in this context, the report of the Task Force on Innovation which was commissioned by the Irish Government and published last March.

Over the past two weeks, I have met representatives from political groups in the European Parliament. And, of course, today is a very useful opportunity to exchange views, particularly since the Lisbon Treaty gives national parliaments a stronger role in the legislative process within the European Union.

I want the Strategy to have an impact on the well being of each and every person living within the European Union. It will be about creating new jobs and protecting and sustaining existing jobs.

And it will target all of our resources and policy instruments on the really big challenges we face – such as fighting climate change, using scarce resources more efficiently or caring for our ageing population.

With resources so scarce, we must focus this strategy on issues that people really care about – more jobs, an improved quality of living and a better society.

The Strategy will be based on one central political idea – the need to develop a European approach to innovation. As I said, Europe 2020 is about building a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. The Strategy must reflect this. It must also make maximum use of our strong public sector. The public services of the European Union can and must be major drivers of innovation into the future. The Strategy is still "work in progress". But I can tell you that it will be divided into three sections:

First, the basic building blocks of innovation. I am talking about better science teaching in our schools – indeed a total re-think of education – with less focus on learning by rote, and more on the "soft" skills – creativity, organising work independently and working in teams. People need to "learn to learn."

Of course, EU competences are limited in this area. But I want us to add value where we can.

I am talking about more excellent universities, more graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths, and a higher level of attainment in these subjects.

I intend to work closely with my colleague, Androulla Vassiliou, who is the European Commissioner with responsibility for education and culture concerning these very issues.

We must also strengthen our science base and ensure that it is internationally competitive. That is why we must have a single, unified research area in Europe, within which researchers and knowledge can move around freely. I want to remove, once and for all, the pension and social security obstacles which prevent researchers from moving freely between countries.

And we must make the best possible use of European level funding instruments, including the EU Framework Programme for research. Under the 7th Framework Programme 2007- 2013, Irish companies have drawn down 213 million Euro between January 2007 and April 2010. This means that Irish third level institutions, private companies, research centres and state organisations are drawing down over 1 million Euro a week under this EU research fund, better known by the acronym FP7.

We will soon start working out our key priorities under what will the next research framework programme of the European Union for the period 2014 – 2020.

I have already started to cut red tape in research funding, but I intend to go much further under the new programme. I want researchers to spend more time in the lab and less time in the office.

I will explore how we can improve the participation levels of small and medium-sized enterprises within the Framework Programme.

Above all, I want to turn the Framework Programme into an instrument of innovation. We already have a number of public-private partnerships in areas such as fuel cells and hydrogen, which can potentially replace petrol in cars. Another public-private partnership, the Clean Sky Initiative, is developing the next generation of environmentally friendly aircraft. I am confident that more public private partnerships will be launched under my political mandate.

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. This is a top priority both for myself and President Barroso.

This brings me to my next point – the second section in the Strategy – the need to promote productive entrepreneurship.

Europe has a large and excellent knowledge base. It is the largest producer of scientific publications. But we are not good enough at transforming our inventions into commercial successes.

The best known example is the MP3 standard for compressing audio data which was invented in Europe, but commercialised in the US – but there are many more. This has to change. I am determined to eliminate all the bottlenecks in the innovation process. I want to innovation-proof our regulations. Expand funding for innovation. Speed up the development of open and inter-operable standards. Achieve agreement at last on the Community Patent, which is so important for our SMEs.

In short, I want to deliver a fully functioning 'single market for innovation.' My colleague, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier fully supports this objective too. We must have a common set of actions and political priorities. The level of ambition will be high.

The third part of the Strategy will be the most important. Because we don't just want more innovation, we want the right kind of innovation. As I said before, we need to concentrate our resources in the areas which our citizens care most about.

To achieve this, I intend to launch a small number of highly targeted "Innovation Partnerships."

These will be launched in areas where a clear and measurable goal – for example – adding two years of healthy life by 2020 - can be defined bearing a direct link to a societal challenge - in this case population ageing.

They will provide a framework for pooling resources and bringing together all key actors, as well as relevant policies and instruments, on both the supply and the demand side and at European and national levels.

They will be innovation short-circuits – speeding up breakthroughs and making sure that they are rapidly deployed.

I feel very strongly about this idea. I saw during my recent trip to the US, just how determined the Americans are to make progress in these key strategic areas. They are determined to unleash a clean energy revolution, especially since the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. We must have a similarly strategic approach in Europe. And we must co-operate with our international partners to achieve our agreed political goals. The Partnerships cannot succeed without the support of the Member States. Indeed, we need massive political buy-in by the Heads of State and Government. I hope very much that the Oireachtas will throw its weight behind this ground-breaking new idea.

We know what our political objectives are – so let us go and achieve them with a sense of unity, determination and purpose.

Thank you.

Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top