Commission and EU Member States benchmark national research policies

January 17, 2003

Brussels, 16 January 2003

The European Commission and the Greek Presidency will present the first comprehensive results of a research and development (R&D) policies' benchmarking exercise over the course of a two-day conference due to start tomorrow in Athens. The analysis, which contributes to creating the European Research Area, examined human resources in research, public and private investment in research, the impact of research on competitiveness and employment, science and technology productivity and how to promote a R&D culture and public understanding of science. Participants will address case studies such as successful research clusters in Finland and effective R&D policies in Austria.

As European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin says: "Benchmarking is about learning through comparison. It is intended to help Member States improve their research policies by making them more consistent through an exchange of information and mutual learning. By identifying and disseminating best practice in co-operation with Member States, we can help improve R&D conditions in Europe and foster the creation of the European Research Area, a true internal market for science and knowledge. We are still far from achieving the European Research Area and turning Europe into a world-class growth engine: much remains to be done, and I call on Member States and research players to step up their efforts and to work with us to meet these goals".

The conference will bring together representatives from the Commission, the Greek Presidency, EU Member States and countries associated to EU research programmes, to analyse best practices in R&D policy and encourage their take-up across Europe. This is in line with the voluntary "open method of co-ordination" as endorsed by the March 2000 Lisbon European Council. The meeting's results will feed into the next round of R&D benchmarking.

As indicated in the Commission Synthesis Report to the Spring European Council, the application of the "open method of co-ordination" in the research field has a key role to play in boosting the level of growth-enhancing investments offered by public and private partners.

Some of the first lessons learnt through benchmarking have already been translated into policy actions. Both the level of R&D investment and its current growth are too low to achieve the March 2000 Lisbon European Council goal, of turning the EU into the most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010; the shortfall is principally due to the private sector. The March 2002 Barcelona summit acted upon this recommendation. Other recommendations are being discussed at national level.

Potential topics for the second benchmarking "cycle" include human resources in industrial research, mobility of researchers, how to counter the "brain drain", scientific careers and graduate training. R&D benchmarking will also take into consideration the broader framework of the EU's drive to raise its research spending to 3% of Europe's average Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Issues to be analysed include funding of university research, direct and indirect public support measures to boost private R&D investment, technology transfer and spin-offs from universities, incubators, and support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) research.

Local research clusters represent an important dimension of the European Research Area. In this respect, factors to be "benchmarked" could include R&D cluster models, sector-specific research clusters and technological platforms, universities as cluster enablers, SME groupings and networking to foster the creation of clusters, and high-technology SMEs in R&D clustering.

Public policies to promote better understanding of science are influenced by issues such as government spending, public incentives in this field and awareness-raising events such "Science weeks" at national level. The second benchmarking round will therefore also look into these issues and assess Member States performance in raising public awareness in the scientific field.

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DN: IP/03/62 Date: 16/01/2003

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