Industrial research: the European blockageThe European Commission has just published its annual scoreboard of industrial investment in R&D. On close analysis of the figures, an intriguing if not altogether rosy picture emerges. It would appear, for example, that the 700 EU companies most active on the R&D front invested €102 billion in 2004, which is half that of the top 700 – for the most part American – non-European R&D investors. At the same time, the major European companies have no cause to envy their US counterparts: the research top 50 includes 18 EU companies, 17 American and 12 Japanese. Also, the world number one corporate R&D investor is a European company, DaimlerChrysler, with an investment of €5.7 billion in 2004 (even if the detractors insist that it is essentially a bi-national company). This ranking is also a reminder that the automotive industry is the number one R&D investor, accounting for five of the top ten companies. Ensuring the safety and comfort of our car journeys absorbs about 10% of the global research potential.
The European weaknesses are both structural and cultural. EU companies are less present in the research-intensive sectors, in particular the information and communication technologies (except for world leader Nokia). What is more, European companies invest on average much less in research than their foreign cousins: 2.9% of turnover compared with 4.2%. It is no doubt a question of commitment and confidence in the future. But most worrying of all is that the gap between Europe and the rest of the world is continuing to widen. Over the past three years, R&D investments by the top 700 European companies have grown by just 0.1%, compared with 4% for the top 700 non-European companies. The EU’s industrial investments in R&D are thus insufficient to boost growth and, given the low expected increase in GDP, such growth will be insufficient to have an upward effect on investments in R&D. Breaking this vicious circle remains a major challenge that is more urgent than ever for Europe.