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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 46 - August 2005    
 Five-yearly assessment: interview with Erkki Ormala
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Title  Facts, figures and future prospects

To support its proposals for the Seventh Framework Programme, the Commission has published a very detailed study on European research funding, the budget for which it has ambitious plans to double. This document draws attention to Europe’s weaknesses compared with its principal global competitors, takes stock of EU research policy over the past decade or more, and makes an ex ante evaluation of the impact of its new programme for action. RTD info highlights a number of key points.

1. An acknowledgement of weakness 
Of the indicators given in Table 1, it is the first three that are most commonly used to measure the health of research. The weakness of investment compared with GDP – hence the ‘3%’ objective of the Lisbon Strategy – a low private-sector contribution to research and an insufficient number of researchers are the real Achilles heels of EU research in the face of its competitors.

Table 1: Principal indicators of comparison between the EU, USA and Japan Indicators

The only field in which Europe comes out on top is that of scientific publications, a figure that is revealed as rather relative when viewed in terms of size of population. The conclusion is that while Europe remains a major centre of excellence for the creation of scientific knowledge, it finds it difficult to extract sufficient economic and commercial applications from this, as demonstrated by the figures on patents and high-tech exports. 

2. The lack of investment in R&D
The transatlantic divide in R&D investment is a subject that is stressed frequently. Graph 1 provides a more precise picture of how this grew during the period 1995-2002. While part of the difference is due to the traditional volume of US military expenditure on research, America’s lead is further boosted by the tendency for US private companies to invest much more dynamically than their counterparts in Europe. 

Graph 1: R&D investment gap between the EU and the US

What is more, in the context of globalisation, the focus on the US example should not lead us to forget that European research is also increasingly lagging behind the ‘Asian tigers’. Graph 2 shows that, over the same period, the EU’s share in R&D investment was eroded rapidly compared with that of Asia. 

Graph 2: R&D investment gap between the EU and five Asian economies

Another worrying aspect is that the EU is failing to attract sufficient private R&D investors from beyond its borders, as shown in Graph 3. Paradoxically, cross-border intra-European capital flows for research (€13.6 billion) are lower than the combined amount of capital that is invested into the United States (€15.4 billion) and Japan (€1.8 billion). Compared with these two countries, the shortfalls in R&D financing in the EU are €5 billion and €1.2 billion respectively.

Graph 3: Attractiveness of EU for R&D investments (in millions of € – constant prices 2001)

The sector-based pattern of Europe’s R&D investments compared with the rest of the world sheds further light on the overall picture. Graph 4 shows that, in international terms, Europe is most present in the so-called ‘traditional’ industries such as chemicals, pharmacy, automobile, and electronics, as well as in aerospace and telecommunications. By contrast, its under-representation in the major growth sectors of the biotechnologies and information technologies is all too evident. 

Graph 4: Position of EU in new technologies – breakdown of R&D investments

3. Growth and diversification of the Framework Programmes for Research

Over the past two decades, the EU has allocated ever-increasing budgets to the succession of six Framework Programmes for Research and Development. The initial budget of just over €3 billion for the 1984-1988 period was increased to over €15 billion for the 1998-2002 Fifth Framework Programme and then to €20 billion for the current Sixth Framework Programme. In 2002 (end of FP5), 7 334 so-called ‘shared cost’(1) research projects were financed for an average amount of €1.3 million, and involving 50 000 research teams.  

This increase in the European research effort is also reflected in the growing diversity of the priorities and themes covered, as shown in Graph 5. While under the first Framework Programmes the focus was primarily on energy and the information technologies, their relative importance has decreased progressively over the years compared with other emerging priorities, in particular research in the life sciences and support for the mobility of researchers.

Graph 5: Evolution of Framework Programme priorities

The Sixth Framework Programme, with an almost 30% increase in budget, aimed to make a major correction to avoid the danger of spreading the resources too thinly between a growing number of projects of insufficient size within these more numerous priorities. This attempt to concentrate actions took mainly the form of new instruments introduced in 2002 – Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence – created to attract more participants in pursuit of more ambitious strategic goals. It is still too soon to draw any in-depth conclusions from this new direction but the initial available figures, on around 500 projects, show a doubling of the number of project participants (from an average of 6.6 to 14.3) and a tripling of financing per project (€4.8 million compared with €1.3 million).

4. Impact scenario of a doubling of the European research budget
The Commission’s proposals to double the resources allocated to the Seventh Framework Programme must be placed in context. In 2005, EU expenditure on research represents just 4.83% of its total budget and 5.36% of total public funds allocated to research. Its leverage effect in achieving the Lisbon objectives is therefore relative. Nevertheless, it is quantitatively very significant due to the ‘network effect’ that encourages both a cross-fertilisation of the excellence present in each Member State and the attainment of a critical mass of efforts on certain subjects, as well as the ‘multiplier effect’ in terms of the dissemination of knowledge and applications.

Is it possible to quantify the impact of doubling the Union’s research budget? In this field, any estimate of results must be framed in the long term. The impact of RTD strategic programmes must be measured over decades.

Table 2 presents figures for 2030 obtained from a sophisticated economic model known as ‘Nemesis-bis’. Unlike a ‘business as usual’ scenario (maintenance of a budget equivalent to the present budget), this compares the forecasts of a number of indicators in the case of two hypotheses: that of a doubling of the 2007-2013 budget followed by a return to moderate increases, and that of a doubling of the budget followed by other major increases for subsequent programmes.

Table 2: Projected impact of the Seventh Framework Programme in 2030

Projected development of major trends

Doubling of Seventh Framework Programme budget and subsequent moderate growth

Doubling of Seventh Framework Programme budget and subsequent strong growth

Increase in GDP (%)

+0,45 à +0,69
+0,96 à +1,66

Job creation

+418 000
+925 000

Of which research jobs

+40 000
+214 000

Increased research intensity (as % of GDP)


Increase in extra-European exports (%)


Reduction in extra-European imports (%)

- 0,27
- 0,88

(1) Between 50% and 60% of the EU’s research budget is in the form of financial contributions to research actions proper, in addition to that contributed by the participants themselves. The rest of the budget is devoted to various support and coordination measures, researcher mobility, aid to innovation and technology transfer, international scientific co-operation, the activities of the Joint Research Centre to support EU policies, etc. 

Printable version

  • The Impact Assessment and Ex Ante Evaluation document
  • See Europe: stagnating research?