Brussels, 30 Apr 2003
EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin presented on 29 April a new action plan containing a number of measures aimed at helping the EU to meet the three per cent target by 2010.
In March 2002 at the Barcelona Council, Heads of State and Government endorsed an objective proposed by the Commission, to see the average research investment level in the EU increase from 1.9 per cent to 3 per cent by 2010. Tow thirds of this investment should come from the private sector.
The action plan sets out a number of initiatives intended to create a stronger public research base in Europe and to make the region more attractive with regard to private investment in research and innovation.
'Politicians often don't pay enough attention to research and innovation,' said Mr Busquin. 'It's not an alarm I'm sounding [...]. This is a fundamental policy and is not expendable.'
Outlining the industry perspective was Erkki Ormala from Nokia. 'The current trend is that R&D [research and development] investment is increasing more rapidly outside Europe, in the US and Asia,' he said. He highlighted a relatively new competitor for the EU - China. China is producing 500,000 well educated engineers annually, which is reflected in where European countries are choosing to invest.
The action plan proposes a number of measures, which are divided into four areas: progressing jointly; improving public support for research and innovation; redirecting public spending towards research and innovation; and improving framework conditions for private investment in research.
More specifically, measures include creating 'European technology platforms', bringing together the main stakeholders around key technologies in order to devise and implement a common strategy and to avoid duplication. The action plan also asks public authorities to eliminate current rules and practices attached to public funding schemes that present a barrier to cross border cooperation, by 2005.
Mr Busquin referred to such policies as 'outdated', citing a time when he, as Minister for Research in the Belgian region of Wallonia was charged with ensuring such rules were adhered to. If the government were to provide funding for a project, the entire project would have to be carried out within the region. 'A company can no longer be told that it can't cooperate with a company in another country because of the strings attached in terms of funding,' said the Commissioner.
Five groups of experts have been working on the action plan for one year. The experts have come up with a list of 32 measures aimed at attracting multinational companies' R&D capacity, increasing existing R&D investment, creating R&D intensive SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), and initiating R&D in low-tech sectors. The importance of each measure for achieving each objective has been indicated by the experts. For example, favourable State aid rules are considered to be very important for increasing existing R&D investment, important for attracting multinationals, and less important for creating R&D intensive SMEs and encouraging R&D in low-tech sectors.
Isi Saragossi, head of unit in the European Commission's 'knowledge-based economy and society' directorate and coordinator of the working groups, explained to CORDIS News that none of the 32 measures can be highlighted as more important than the others. 'It is a chain. If you have one weak link, you won't get anywhere,' he said.
He emphasised the need to recognise that problems are sector specific and not consistent across the board. 'We need more intelligent policy measures,' he said.
In his presentation, Dr Ormala underlined the need to change attitudes and to work together. 'We need to be able to challenge many of our conventional ways of thinking. No group alone can create the conditions to increase investment by such an amount,' he concluded.
The Commission will monitor progress towards the three per cent objective, and will publish an annual report on the progress made. The reports will be published ahead of the Spring European Council in order that the Heads of State and Government may follow the progress and adjust their strategy as appropriate.
To read the action plan and for further information, please consult the following web address: