Brussels, 15 Mar 2005
'The knowledge society' and 'innovation' are 'dreadful buzz words' according to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, but are nonetheless key to the growth and employment needed to 'put Europe back on track'.
Having been invited to give the 2005 Robert Schuman Lecture for the Lisbon Council, Mr Barroso promised his audience that he was not about to pull out one of his 'stock speeches' simply describing what the Lisbon agenda and its mid-term review are about. Instead he delivered what he described as the 'real message' on Lisbon and the challenges involved.
'The knowledge society' and 'innovation' may be buzz words 'conjuring up images of long-haired computer technicians and white-coated men and women in hi-tech laboratories'. But, as Mr Barroso added, 'these concepts are also a vital part of any modern, dynamic and sustainable economy. In the new single market, they should not just be thought of in terms of research and higher education, but in terms of their ability to open up business opportunities as well.'
And this is why knowledge and innovation, along with making Europe an attractive place to invest and work and creating more and better jobs, has been selected as one of the key areas of the new, refocused Lisbon agenda.
While the main responsibility for knowledge and innovation lies with the Member States, the EU has a role to play, said Mr Barroso. In particular, it is the task of the EU to mobilise its budget for research and higher education. The Commission President added that he would be discussing this issue with a group of Nobel Prize winners.
Mr Barroso also referred to a range of proposals stemming from the Commission which are aimed at giving a boost to knowledge and innovation: the creation of 'innovation poles' at regional and local levels, involving high technology, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), universities and businesses; the establishment of a European Institute of Technology to attract the best brains and companies from around the world; and the setting up of a European Research Council to select projects for funding purely on the basis of scientific excellence.
Knowledge and innovation should also be considered in terms of their capacity for opening up business opportunities, added the Commission President. In order to make the most of this capacity, private sector investment in research must rise. And while it is the responsibility of business itself to reassess its spending priorities, Mr Barroso pronounced that the Commission would play its part by reviewing the EU's state aid regime for research and development. A change in policy 'will make it easier to better integrate public and private action for research in the general interest,' said Mr Barroso.
Another obvious incentive for increased private sector investment in research is if the results of this research can be translated into commercial gain, added Mr Barroso.
The Commission President concluded by calling on all those who are set to benefit from Lisbon to mobilise themselves and to become more outward-looking. 'If the mid-term review is to be a success, if we are to create a Europe of real opportunities, we must be more outward-looking,' he said. 'The established interest groups have all got important contributions to make, and they have made them. But where are the young entrepreneurs? The general public? The risk-takers? Consumers? SMEs? Innovators? They need to mobilise if resistance to change is to be overcome.'