Brussels, 18 Mar 2004
Giving his first annual progress report on the EU's efforts to raise investment in research to thee per cent of GDP on 17 March, the EU's Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin, described results so far as 'positive, but still insufficient.'
The data presented by Mr Busquin are designed to help monitor the implementation of the Commission's 2003 research investment action plan. The figures were assembled by the Commission in collaboration with Member States and acceding countries, and provide policy makers with an up to date picture of public spending on research and innovation in Europe.
'One year on, the three per cent action plan is beginning to bear fruit,' said Mr Busquin. 'On average, public investment in research increased in 2003 and 2004. However, that increase is still too slow. It is vital that Member States take advantage of the economic upturn to refocus their budgets on research and innovation.'
Based on planned direct public funding for research, the snapshot reveals a wide disparity in annual rates of investment growth between the various countries included in the analysis. For example, while Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria and the UK all have investment growth rates that meet or exceed the required rate to achieve the Barcelona target, countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands actually have a negative rate of growth.
The picture in the acceding countries is a similar one. While Mr Busquin noted that 'in many cases, the acceding countries are making a tremendous effort,' with growth rates in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, Latvia, and Cyprus ranging from 12 to 28 per cent a year, other countries are not doing so well.
'The EU-25 average annual growth rate in public funding of R&D [research and development] needed to reach three per cent of GDP in 2010 is 6.5 per cent. From the snapshot data it is possible to estimate that the actual growth rate is 2.07 per cent - figures which are significantly below the required level,' said Mr Busquin.
In order to take into account the impact of indirect efforts to increase research investment within the private sector, the Commission has also compiled a dataset that estimates the contribution to R&D investment growth of fiscal measures. 'Although they must be considered as foregone revenues rather than public research spending [...], fiscal and other indirect measures are equivalent to a significant percentage of the total EU-25 public funding for R&D for 2004,' states the report.
Mr Busquin highlighted Austria as an example of best practice in providing fiscal incentives for companies to invest more in research, while Latvia, the Netherlands, France and the UK also performed well in this area.
The snapshot concludes that: 'Greater efforts must [...] be made to boost public funding of R&D in order to reach the Barcelona objective, in particular by the larger economies.' It adds that countries should recognise the role that the public funding of research plays in generating growth and employment, and reflect the fact in their national budgets.
In terms of the other deliverables contained within the action plan, Mr Busquin said the Commission is 'keeping its promises'. He pointed to the proposed doubling of the budget for the next research Framework Programme, the refocusing of the Structural Funds towards stimulating regional competitiveness, and introduction of new measures designed to facilitate researcher mobility as examples of the EU meeting its obligations.
Mr Busquin revealed that in order to better monitor private sector investment in R&D - a key element of the Barcelona objective - the Commission is developing a scoreboard of the top 500 European and third country companies in terms of research spending to be published in the autumn.
When asked whether he wanted to single out any particular country that was not performing to the required standard, Mr Busquin said: 'Criticism is not levelled at any one country, criticism is levelled at all countries that signed up to the three per cent target, yet fail to introduce the necessary measures to achieve it.'
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