Turning Europe into an innovation hub
This year’s European Forum for Innovative Enterprises finishes today. The fourth gathering of its kind, it brought together entrepreneurs, policy-makers and researchers seeking fresh and innovative approaches to turning original ideas into novel products.
Inventiveness is the ability to create something new where nothing existed before. Innovativeness is the creative application of new ideas or the recombination or reconfiguration of existing ones. To prosper, a society needs both. It also needs to strike a balance between the abstract and the applied.
|Bright ideas are the secret of Europe’s prosperity.|
© European Commission
Europe’s success has long relied on creativity and its ability to innovate in a rapidly changing world. “The generation of new knowledge… its exploitation through technology and innovation, and its dissemination… make it the lifeblood of the economy and society,” observed the EU’s new Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik.
However, there are signs that, while Europe remains good at generating new ideas and knowledge, it is losing ground in the innovation stakes. For this reason, the EU and its Member States have been taking concerted action to promote entrepreneurial innovation in recent years.
One such initiative is the Commission-backed European Forum for Innovative Enterprises, now into its fourth year, which was hosted between 5 and 7 December in two successful German high-tech hubs, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe.
Innovation is the “golden thread running throughout the future knowledge-driven economy”, a recent UN report described. This means that we need to ‘hard-wire’ it into our entrepreneurial and scientific culture and right across the policy spectrum. For this reason, the forum brought together the various stakeholders from the business sector, the research community, as well as policy-makers at the regional, national and European levels.
Host Stuttgart, one of the most advanced high-tech regions in Europe, provided one model for the way forward. The region of 2.6 million inhabitants has the highest industrial density in Germany, and a quarter of its workforce is employed in high- and medium-tech manufacturing. It is also home to some of the world’s top research facilities and has one of the world’s highest patent densities.
Linking knowledge and growth
Innovation is a cornerstone of the EU’s landmark 2000 Lisbon Strategy which aims to turn Europe into the world’s leading knowledge-based economy by 2010. The current Sixth Framework Programme for Research (2002-2006) has earmarked over €360 million to promote innovation policy.
Innovation is hardwired into every aspect of FP6 which follows a two-pronged approach: integration and translation. Through the European Research Area, the Commission is seeking to integrate more closely European research efforts to build up a critical mass of fundamental knowledge.
But basic knowledge is of little use if it is lost in translation. FP6’s ‘translational approach’ seeks to ensure that fundamental knowledge is taken through to the application stage in a way that will improve the quality of life of EU citizens and the Union’s competitiveness.
Next year marks an important milestone – the halfway point for the Lisbon Strategy. A group of experts led by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok recently presented their midterm review. Despite an agreement in Barcelona in 2002 among EU leaders to boost R&D investment to 3% of their aggregate national income and a recent Commission action plan outlining how this could be done, the Kok report pointed out that urgent action was needed if Europe was to meet its Lisbon aspirations.
“In calling for urgent action to realise the knowledge society as a top priority, it rightly underlines knowledge as one of the keys to securing EU competitiveness and sustainable economic growth,” Mr Potočnik told a recent round table conference in Slovenia. “In the run up to the Lisbon Mid-Term Review by the European Council next March, we have a real opportunity to breathe new life into our reform agenda, and it is one which we cannot afford to miss.”
The new Commissioner outlined his vision for a ‘Knowledge for growth pact’ which “would be organised around a limited number of quantitative objectives that the EU and the Member States would commit themselves to achieve over a specific period of time”.
Mr Potočnik also voiced his strong support for the Commission’s proposal for the more ambitious forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). “The Commission’s proposal to double the budget for [FP7] sends a strong signal to Member States about the size of the step-change that is now necessary.”
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