SME participation 'crucial', says new commissioner
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is the newly appointed Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science; in January 2010 the Irish-born politician faced her first parliamentary hearing. Among the many issues raised by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) was the crucial importance of increasing funding to SMEs in EU-funding research to 15%. Here we take a look at the key points raised at the hearing and learn how Ms Geoghegan-Quinn hopes to resolve them to reach this ambitious target.
The new commissioner began by explaining her main aim while in office: 'If we want to take Europe out of the economic crisis, the EU must become a true innovation union that takes research and transfers it into jobs. My task will be to put research, innovation and science at the heart of EU policies.'
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn’s focus then moved to small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the need – which she described as 'crucial' – to raise SME funding in the framework programme to 15%. In order to achieve this and other improvements, the new commissioner discussed a number of points raised by MEPs regarding EU-funded research.
Although new to the role, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn’s energy and passion are indisputable: 'I am a politician, not a civil servant. I am into action. Am I going to talk or deliver? The second of course!'
To show her commitment to research, innovation and science, and her desire to see them improved, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn suggested raising expenditure in science research to 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the EU. That is the same ambitious target as President Obama set in the US. The commissioner also wants to improve SMEs' access to investment. She suggested creating a task force to improve cooperation between SMEs and the European Central Bank’s investment arm.
Once a research project is complete, the accessibility of its results to the wider industry is a vital aspect of knowledge sharing. MEPs raised issues surrounding accessing patents and the high cost of intellectual property rights (IPR) following a complete project. Ms Geoghegan-Quinn agreed that the patent issue is 'a very serious obstacle' and promised to improve affordability and access to a European patent programme.
Many private companies (and particularly SMEs) that wish to take part in the framework programme feel hindered by the bureaucracy involved in EU funding. Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, a former member of the European Court of auditors herself, believes streamlining the application process will encourage more companies to take part. 'We cannot compromise sound financial management – but we can simplify,' she says. 'If we have fewer rules, we have fewer errors. Whatever we do, we need to do it quickly.'
Lack of researchers
It is believed that the EU lacks sufficient numbers of researchers to carry out research projects. 'We have to put in place a climate to encourage researchers to come into the system with ease,' suggests Ms Geoghegan-Quinn. 'We need to build up the infrastructure but we also need to build up capacities.' The new commissioner also believes that adopting a more personal approach will increase the popularity of research: ways to do this involve making science 'sexy' and promoting celebrity scientists.
Support for all
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn believes the research budget must support both large and small projects alike, as well as those projects focused on subjects that are not profitable. She supports making research calls more focused on SMEs and stressed the importance of performing research in any form. After all, she says: 'no matter what the research is, it is always valuable, it can always be used.'
The new commissioner is keen to ensure no opportunity for research is missed. Collaboration across all Member States is therefore crucial. She wants to create a unified research area to allow and encourage smaller Member States to come forward and perform research. Ms Geoghegan-Quinn believes 'we need to engage together' across all Member States to improve the EU for the benefit of all.
The commissioner concluded by emphasising her enthusiasm and commitment to the overall advancement of the EU through research: 'I won’t be a mouse but I will be collegial. I guarantee that we can work together to deliver what people want. I would like to come to parliament, not to wait to be invited, to discuss with you how we can work together to deliver policy.'
Communication and PR officer
DG Research, SME unit