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European Commission > Investing in European Research > The 3% objective: brief history

The 3% objective: brief history

In March 2000, the European Union set itself the ambitious goal to become, by 2010, "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world", what has become known as the Lisbon strategy.

This involved many reforms, such as the establishment of an effective internal market, an improved education system, and a more productive innovation and research base, just to name a few of the reforms concerned.

Leveraging investment in R&D became a key element of this strategy following the Barcelona European Council’s objective to raise overall R&D investment to 3% of GDP by 2010.

This objective was expected to have a significant impact on long-term growth and employment in Europe. According to studies, such an investment would bring an additional GDP growth of up to 0.5% and 400.000 additional jobs per year after 2010.

But to reach this target, research investment was expected to grow at an average rate of 8% per year, shared between a 6% growth rate for public expenditure and a 9% growth rate for private investment, which has not been the case until now.

The ways and means to achieve this objective were initially defined in 2002 in the Commission’s communication ‘More research for Europe – Towards 3% of GDP’. This communication received an overwhelmingly supportive feedback from the main stakeholders and this led to the Action Plan ‘Investing in research’, adopted by the Commission in 2003.

The Action Plan proposed a focused set of actions aimed at increasing the level of research investment in Europe. It was supported by a Commission Staff Working Paper and other studies.

Since 2003, the 3% Action Plan has had a mobilizing effect on Member States. Nearly all have set their own research investment targets. If met, their combined effect will bring R&D investment in Europe to 2.6% of GDP by 2010. But even though some progress has been achieved, R&D efforts still need to be intensified. In most Member States, increases in public and private R&D investment remain insufficient to reach the national and EU targets.

In 2005, the new Commission undertook a thorough review of the Lisbon strategy. This led the Commission to propose a European Partnership for Growth and Jobs.

The European Council concurred and singled out ‘knowledge and innovation for growth’ as one of the three pillars of the Partnership for Growth and Jobs. It also confirmed the 3% objective for research investment in Europe.

This is reflected in the Integrated Guidelines for Member States adopted by the European Council in June 2005. Notably, Guideline 7 recommends to ‘increase and improve investment in R&D’ and asks Member States to set their own targets for R&D investment. Moreover, Guideline 8 states that there is a need ‘to facilitate all forms of innovation’.

Member States will implement these guidelines according to ‘National reform Programmes’ released in autumn 2005.

At Community level, a series of actions are announced in the Community Lisbon Programme. They are presented in more detail in the Communication ‘More Research and Innovation - A Common Approach’, adopted on the 12th of October. This communication sets out an integrated action plan that addresses the full research and innovation spectrum. It outlines a number of new actions, going beyond the 3% Action Plan of 2003.

Implementing the actions described in this latest Communication will allow Europe to develop and better exploit its research and innovation potential. This is an important step towards the more robust and innovative economy needed by Europe to support its social model and to face rising international challenges.


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