Dublin, 21 Jan 2004
"Innovation and research key to stimulating growth and jobs" - Harney
The capacity of the European Union to hold onto its science and technology graduates and to attract non-EU scientists and researchers to work in Europe is a key issue for the future growth and competitiveness of EU industry, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Ms Mary Harney, told members of the European Parliament today.
Some 400,000 EU science graduates are currently working in the US, representing about 40% of the entire US science and research community, and for every three science and technology graduates from the Far East who move to the US to work, only one moves to Europe, Ms Harney told the parliament's Committee on Industry, External Trade and Research.
"Innovation drives economic activity, growth and enterprise which is why the research agenda is so critically important for the EU. We produce more scientists and researchers than the US but too many of them move to the US to work. We must provide more incentives to keep these graduates in Europe and to attract others to work here," she said. The Irish Presidency would prioritise the on-going negotiations designed to facilitate the free movement of scientists and researchers, and their families, within the EU and into the EU from third countries, she said.
Ms Harney said a larger proportion of the EU budget should be devoted to research to kick-start investment and activity in the private sector, and the rules and regulations dealing with access to research funds needed to be greatly simplified. She added that the Irish Presidency would seek to bring some new thinking to bear on this issue over the coming months. There was also a need for closer linkages between industry and the higher education system, similar to linkages which had been developed in the US, she said.
The broad issue of intellectual property rights and the lengthy and continuing negotiations on the Community Patent were key components of the legal infrastructure which needed to be put in place to support a renewed emphasis on research and innovation, the Tánaiste said. It was the firm intention of the Irish Presidency to try and reach agreement on the few outstanding issues holding up final agreement on the Patent; "it is vitally important that we reach a political agreement on this issue which has been on the agenda now for 14 years" she said.
The Tánaiste said that innovation would be the theme for a meeting of EU Ministers scheduled to take place in Shannon in April. She said the Irish Presidency had lined up some "leading lights" from the global IT industry to speak at the Shannon meeting with the objective of stimulating dialogue between business leaders on the one hand and European competitiveness ministers and the European Commission on the other. "This form of dialogue is new and has the capacity to stimulate original thinking about how Europe is to encourage growth and a knowledge-based economy" she said.
Referring to external trade, Ms Harney said the EU had recently received a "very welcome and encouraging" communication from the US Trade Secretary in relation to the resumption of the WTO trade negotiations and it was vitally important that this process be renewed as soon as possible. She described EU - US trade as crucially important to the development of economic growth in Europe.
Decisions by multinational companies to relocate parts of their business, including R&D activities, in lower cost third countries, notably in India and the Far East, was an increasingly common trend and one of great concern for the EU, she said. The EU response must be to concentrate on innovation and the higher value added sector of the manufacturing process.
Agreement on the general issue of EU-wide recognition of Professional Qualifications was also a key element in the broad agenda agreed in Lisbon in 2000 to make Europe the most competitive and knowledge-based economy in the world, Ms Harney welcomed the publication by the Commission of its new draft Directive on Services which she described as vital for the completion of the internal market and which would make it easier for services to be traded across borders. "Increased trade in services will stimulate economic growth and job creation and is an integral part of the Lisbon process," she said.
According to the Tánaiste, another important dossier on which the Irish presidency hoped to make progress was the new Chemicals Directive. She called for a balanced approach and acknowledged the need to accommodate environmental concerns but added "the chemical industry in important to the European economy and we must ensure that we do not drive it out of the EU to other locations.
The Tánaiste added that better regulation had to be a priority for the Union as excessive rules had the potential block growth and employment. "Less regulation can often mean better regulation," she said.