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In March 2010, the European Council agreed on the main elements of the EU's new strategy for growth and jobs, and set five headline targets which would serve to guide the implementation and monitoring of actions at EU and national levels. One of these targets is to improve the conditions for research and development and to bring combined public and private R&D investment levels to 3% of EU GDP.

The objective of raising the EU's overall R&D investment to approach 3% of GDP was originally set by the Barcelona European Council in 2002. In the revision of the Lisbon Strategy in 2005 it was retained as one of only two quantitative targets.

The 3% target was not met by 2010 in spite of a substantial increase of the overall EU R&D expenditure (+25% in real terms from 2000 to 2008) and progress achieved in a majority of Member States. While the overall EU R&D intensity remained below 2%, the target and the associated 3% action plan have had a strong influence on raising the profile and importance of research and research policy throughout the EU, paving the way for a positive trend during the period 2005-2008.

Recognising that Europe's future growth relies to a large extent on research and innovation, the European Council reaffirmed in March 2010 that the overall R&D investment level should be increased to 3% of EU GDP as part of improving the conditions for research and development. Building on its proposal to launch a "Innovation Union" flagship initiative, the Commission engaged in the development of a Research and Innovation Plan to re-focus R&D and innovation policy on the major societal challenges, strengthen the knowledge-based and research capacity across Europe and achieve a single market for knowledge and innovation.

At the March 2010 European Council, EU leaders also agreed that an indicator should be produced to complement the Europe 2020 target of investing 3% of GDP in R&D. Related to this the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science appointed a High-Level Panel on the Measurement of Innovation to advise the European Commission. On the basis of the options proposed by the High-Level Panel, the European Commission proposed in its Innovation Union communication (page 30) the development of an indicator measuring the share of fast-growing innovative companies in the economy.