Act now to boost research and innovation “before it’s too late”!
Experts call for stakeholders to form a Research and Innovation Pact to underscore their commitment to helping Europe meet its revamped Lisbon Agenda. A radical rethink is required to bridge the gap between rhetoric on the knowledge society and concrete steps to make it happen, suggest the authors of a recent report on research, development and innovation in Europe.
Meeting at the Hampton Court Summit in October last year, Europe’s leaders put the challenges of globalisation high on the agenda. Boosting research and innovation, it was felt, is a key part of a new vision for tackling Europe’s flagging productivity and social challenges. From this clarion call, the Commission set up an expert group to investigate what it will take to get Europe back onto the Lisbon track of becoming and remaining the world’s knowledge nucleus.
|Experts suggest ways for Europe to stand out in the global research and innovation race.|
The ‘Aho’ group of experts, named after its chairman, the former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, wasted no time in delivering its findings to the Commission, on 20 January. The report, called ‘Creating an Innovative Europe’, points to a notable gap between political rhetoric on Europe’s knowledge society ambitions and the reality on the ground. And the authors strongly recommend the setting up of a Pact for Research and Innovation to drive the agenda. But this, they warn, requires a “huge act of will and commitment from political, business and social leaders”.
The group argues, among other things, that an innovation-friendly Europe requires a market for innovative goods and service, focused resources, new financial structures and mobility of people, money and organisations. Achieving this may require some quite radical actions, including changes to regulations, standards, public procurement, intellectual property and measures to foster “a culture which celebrates innovation”. The experts offer examples of where large-scale strategic action could be beneficial, such as in pharmaceuticals, e-health, energy, environment, transport and logistics, security and digital content.
Indicator of innovation
“We see the 3% [of GDP spending on R&D – Barcelona] target as an indicator of an Innovative Europe, not as an end in itself,” note the four experts from Finland, France, Spain and the UK in their report. “Measures are needed to increase resources for excellent science, industrial R&D and the science-industry nexus. Productivity of R&D must be increased. The proportion of structural funds spent on research and innovation should be trebled.”
The Group also calls for “far greater mobility” in terms of human resources, funding and structures. They suggest that more effort is needed to create new inter-organisational links through, for example, European technology platforms and research clusters. The report stresses that radical action is needed to preserve Europe’s high quality of life.
“Europe and its citizens should realise that their way of life is under threat but also that the path to prosperity through research and innovation is open if large-scale action is taken now by their leaders before it is too late.”
The Spring European Council is expected to hold further discussions on the Group’s conclusions, particularly in light of deliberations over the next Framework Programme. Its release coincided with the publication of the 2005 European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS), which is an instrument developed by the Commission to measure the EU’s innovative performance year-on-year, and to compare it with our major competitors.
As in previous years, the EU’s Nordic countries and Germany lead the pack in innovation, while others, such as Spain, Estonia and Slovakia, are “losing ground”. The scoreboard indicates that Europe is some distance away from its Barcelona goals, with new Member States (and some older ones) missing their targets. And there is no sign that the gap between Europe and its major competitors – Japan and the United States – is closing. The EU-25 lags the USA, the report notes, because of poorer performance in three main areas: the number of patents and people with tertiary education, and investment in information communications technology.
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