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Leading industrialists call for “dramatic reappraisal” of European R&D

1 April 2003 – Europe will not meet the Barcelona target of increasing R&D spending to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) unless there is a “dramatic reappraisal of Europe’s approach to innovation and its framework conditions for business,” according to Baron Daniel Janssen, chairman of the board of directors of Solvay and member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) , a grouping of 42 of Europe’s largest companies.
Baron Daniel Janssen, chairman of the ERT competitiveness working group.
Baron Daniel Janssen

Baron Janssen was speaking at a European Commission conference in Brussels on 24 March on the future of human resources in European research, at which he presented the findings of a recent survey of ERT members on the Barcelona target.

“Following the adoption of the Barcelona target last year, we decided to survey our members to find out what they thought of the 3% target and to get their opinion about whether it will be achieved,” he told delegates.

The views of the ERT members are extremely important to the success or failure of the Barcelona objective. In 2001, the 42 ERT companies invested €37 billion in R&D, €22.3 billion of which was spent in the EU, accounting for 13% of all European R&D spending.

“Our members thought the objective was excellent, but questioned the implementation,” he added.

When asked about their future R&D plans, most of the companies said they plan to increase their research budget, but a large part of this will be invested outside Europe. “If a large part of Europe’s industrial R&D sector is not planning to increase spending, we have to ask if the target to raise research spending to 3% of GDP – a 50% increase on the current level of 1.9% of GDP – is achievable.”

In the view of the ERT, the target is doubtful unless major changes are made in the European R&D framework. The survey highlighted three main areas for action which would encourage them to invest more in European R&D: develop strong R&D centres of excellence; improve the supply of skilled labour for R&D; and strengthen the attractiveness of scientific careers.

“In Europe we have national centres of excellence, operating in their own languages. This does not attract international scientists,” Baron Janssen said. He stressed the importance of creating a research neighbourhood, made up of companies of all sizes and where scientists from all over the world want to work. This was a major part of the success of Silicon Valley and the Boston area.

He also encouraged the EU to improve the conditions for researchers working in Europe – the ERT survey identified underpaid and poorly motivated staff in Europe as being a major drawback – and to cut out a lot of the administrative red tape, particularly in relation to intellectual property rights.

In his concluding remarks, Baron Janssen stressed that R&D investment is key to Europe’s competitiveness, innovation and growth. In the view of the ERT, reaching the 3% target calls for dramatic long-term commitment from the EU and the Member States. It requires a “dramatic reappraisal of measures in the areas of financing, human resources, infrastructure and the regulatory environment”.


last update: 01-04-2003