Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: Europe needs a wake-up call - International Symposium – Natural Sciences in Contemporary Society (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

October 24, 2005

Ljubljana – 21 October 2005

International Symposium – Natural Sciences in Contemporary Society (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
Ljubljana – 21 October 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of my talk this morning will certainly not come to you as a surprise.

We have arrived at a delicate moment for European research, and a moment which comes at a delicate time for Europe as a whole.

I would like to take the opportunity of today’s event to outline the picture as I see it, and to set out the stakes we are playing for in the coming months and years. But before doing so, I would like to invite you to have a look at the past.

What has been done since October 2004?

You may wonder “Why October 2004” and not November 2004 which marks the official beginning of the Barroso Commission? Because in October 2004, as Commissioner designate for research, I made an address at the European Parliament in which I emphasised a series of items which I think are still important and topical.

Top of the list of messages I delivered last October was the need to revive the Lisbon strategy. Goals such as the acceleration of economic growth, improvement of competitiveness and reduction of unemployment, while taking full account of sustainable development, had to be a priority. Furthermore they had to be translated into concrete actions.

Another main theme of my speech was the improvement and better use of the European research potential by stimulating the integration of small and medium-sized enterprises into the research field. At that time, I said that SMEs were important instigators of economic development and growth. I also stressed the importance of women in science, the support to be given to young researchers, the creation of more attractive conditions for researchers, to name just a few.

But I also referred to our system of work as too complicated and not streamlined enough. Simplification, rationalisation, coordination and cooperation were (and still remain) important objectives of my endeavours for all.

So what answers have been given since last October? What have we done at EU level?

We have delivered a proposal for the 7th Research Framework Programme and we have delivered proposals for the Specific Programmes.

I’m very proud to stress that these Specific Programmes have been delivered in line with the timetable indicated in April this year. They will be followed in early November by a proposal for the rules of participation.

Even in the face of uncertainty on the financial perspectives, this gives the signal that the EU does what it can to have ambitious and operational research programmes in place on time.

I believe the Specific Programmes are strong proposals, which Europe clearly needs if we are serious about the Lisbon agenda.

They are entirely in line with the FP7 proposal in terms of content and budget. But of course they contain more detail, in particular relating to implementation aspects.

Let me highlight some specific aspects of these Programmes.

“Cooperation” is the largest Specific Programme. It is, in many ways, the most important one, as it contains the thematic content. A more thematic approach is indeed proposed for FP7, with greater emphasis on coordination of national programmes and international cooperation. A new approach with Joint Technology Initiatives is also included.

Flexibility over a 7 year programme is essential. Greater detail on thematic content is provided in the Specific Programmes but the full detail will be developed in the annual Work Programmes. As with the FP7 proposal, the thematic content has been developed with close involvement of users, notably using inputs from the European Technology Platforms. Building on the experience of FP6, we will set up structures to be able to rely on external advice when defining the detailed scientific implementation.

Responding to some of the concerns raised, the Cooperation Specific Programme sets out a number of ways in which dissemination and knowledge transfer will be strengthened and how coordination between themes and with other Specific Programmes will be assured. Special attention will be paid to pluridisciplinary and cross-thematic research such as marine science and technologies which could be implemented through joint calls between themes.

The “Capacities” programme will be a “centre of gravity” for cross cutting issues such as infrastructures, SME-specific actions, regions of knowledge, the unlocking of the research potential in the EU’s convergence and outermost regions, the “Science in Society” actions and international cooperation.

As regards the major new element of FP7, the European Research Council, our proposal for the Specific Programme entitled “Ideas” brings a lot of clarification as to how the principles of autonomy and independence should be applied in practice.

The “People” programme builds on the longstanding success of the “Marie Curie actions” but with an increased structuring effect on the organisation, performance and quality of research training throughout Europe. Through the co-funding of regional, national and international programmes we hope to gain new and greater impact of the Community actions. We propose a stronger orientation on training and career development in different sectors, in particular in the private sector. With the “People” programme, we estimate that around 90.000 researchers will be able to benefit directly from the Marie Curie Actions in FP7, compared to around 40.000 in FP6.

Lastly we have elaborated the Risk-Sharing Finance Facility, which could leverage important funds from the European Investment Bank both in the context of the “Cooperation” programme –for example, for large projects and joint technology initiatives - as well as in the context of the “Capacities” programme, for example for infrastructure projects.

In so far as the Joint Research Center is concerned, it will undertake high level research and act as a scientific reference centre through intensive networking with public and private institutions in the Member States. It will also continue its support to New Member States and Candidate Countries, and be active in the New Neighbouring Policy. More emphasis will be put on training and the JRC expects to welcome an increased number of European Scientists, post-doc or doctorates.

Finally, the Euratom Programme sets out the details on how to develop the knowledge base to realise ITER and how to promote the safe use and exploitation of nuclear fission.

Since I’ve just mentioned the New Member States, let me spend some minutes on a subject which is of particular interest to you, that of EU enlargement.

In my hearing at the EP, I clearly said that we needed to ensure that the 10 new Member States were fully integrated and on equal terms within the Union, in the field of science and research as elsewhere.

I was delighted to read a recent report, that cited more active involvement of scientists from Estonia and Slovenia in EU collaborative research as one of the concrete benefits of enlargement that are visible within just one year. Accession also gives access to EU structural funds, which can help update scientific infrastructure.

In fact, for a number of years, candidate countries awaiting EU membership have been treated virtually on an equal footing when it comes to participation in the Research Framework Programme. If some new Member States have not seen a real change in European participation since May last year, it is because they are already participating! Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey are already associated to the Sixth Framework Programme. We are working on the association agreement with Croatia, and if all goes well, we should sign it in November so that it comes into force next January.

Major and substantial efforts have therefore been made. However, and if you allow me to use a sporting analogy, I would say that we have just succeeded in the 1st stage of a triathlon. We have to be proud of what has been achieved so far. But we must not slow down our efforts now.

Unfortunately the current situation does not look like “Alice in Wonderland”.

I have always been concerned by the so-called “European paradox” - a large amount of quality research being reflected in (too) little innovation.

In fact the stagnation of R&D intensity is still a major threat to the European knowledge-based economy.

In July, my services issued a publication on Europe’s position in research and innovation. The “key figures 2005 for science, technology and innovation” show worrying trends in R&D investment and innovation in Europe. The growth rate of R&D intensity, i.e. R&D expenditure as percentage of GDP, has been declining since 2000. It is now close to zero.

I am afraid that Europe is on track to miss the objective it set itself to boost spending on R&D from 1,9 to 3% by 2010. And the most worrying conclusion of the key figures is that Europe is becoming a less attractive place to carry out research.

I am convinced that Europe needs a wake-up call. If the current trends continue, Europe will lose the opportunity to become a leading global knowledge-based economy.

But it is no use complaining. The time has come to react and to react vigorously!

Moreover, if we think of the competition from emerging economies such as China and India as simply about low wages and manufacturing, then we are kidding ourselves. These countries are also competing with us in hi-tech, high skilled sectors, because they are investing more and more in research and innovation. And yet as they catch us up, we are still lagging behind our traditional competitors such as the US and Japan.

The best response we can make is to invest more in research and innovation, and invest better. Because we need to know more and do better.

That’s the reason why last week, with my colleague Günter Verheugen, we tabled an integrated innovation/research action plan, which calls for a major upgrade of the conditions for research and innovation in Europe.

The measures that we proposed are quite down to earth. But they have a very important political objective – the future economic growth and competitiveness of the EU. It once again highlights our intention to put “the Partnership for Growth and Jobs” (the “revised” Lisbon strategy) into effect as soon as possible.

The last topic I would like to mention is simplification.

In the past, participating in the Framework programmes has sometimes proved to be a complex process but I am convinced that much can be done to simplify procedures and thereby enhance accessibility.

The world of science, research and innovation refuses to stand still; it is constantly changing, and we have to change with it. If we don’t move in step with the development of knowledge, we will be left behind, Europe will be left behind. This means constantly reviewing our practices and not changing them for the sake of change, to complicate lives, but making changes where they accelerate things, simplify things, and give results.

Three essential elements must be borne in mind as we seek to achieve our aim of simplification:

Flexibility – in order to provide the necessary tools to achieve FP7 objectives efficiently;

Rationalisation - in order to establish a better balance between risks and controls, to avoid procedures, rules and requests that have little or no added value, and to reduce the time from proposal to project start; and

Coherence – in order to clarify rights and obligations, to ensure consistent and user-friendly communication, to match objectives and means, and to take into account participants’ own practices and pre-existing rules as far as possible.

Improvements have already been made during the 6th Framework Programme, but more is possible and desirable.

In practical terms, my services are developing measures to:

Reduce the paperwork and reporting requirements;

Simplify the cost models and financing schemes;

Improve the presentation and clarity of all documents and guidance relating to the framework programme;

Accelerate the time to contract.

With regard to management – which should not be confused with simplification – as you are aware my intention is to propose a partial externalisation, since we intend to set up an executive agency that will be entrusted with certain tasks required to implement the “Cooperation”, “People” and “Capacities” Specific Programmes. This approach will also be followed for the implementation of the “Ideas” programme.

However money remains the sinew of war.

As you are all aware, top of the list of initiatives begun by my predecessor Philippe Busquin that I would like to see through to delivery is the doubling of the EU budget research. Such an outcome is indeed crucial to the success of the European Research Council, the Technology Platforms and research infrastructure initiatives that I firmly believe the EU should pursue.

All governments agree that knowledge is the key to Europe’s competitiveness. All agree that we cannot afford to delay.

And yet, in the discussions on the Financial Perspectives within the Council, the signals are not encouraging.

The so-called “compromise” tabled in June would have meant research spending stuck at almost current levels. If this were to be the final result, FP7 would simply not have the same scale, scope and ambition.

Of course, we would continue to build and implement an exciting new programme. But more excellent proposals would be left unfunded, more important opportunities would be missed, and the leverage effect on business would be severely weakened.

But we should not to be pessimistic. We must remain determined, patient and active.

However our ambition at the EU level can only come true if we multiply our efforts through cooperation and coordination. Divided and fragmented efforts will not help. We definitively need to work together.

Let me conclude with some personal thoughts which are connected with the European project. I believe that the European project is a vision. It is a dream. But it is also a reality. It is worth our efforts and also our beliefs.

One should reflect again on some very basic questions related to the EU: why do we have an EU? What are our major potentials? What do our citizens really expect from us?

It is interesting - if you are looking at it from a distance – to see that the answer to these questions is relatively simple. But if you are living in the EU, it is like looking at an impressionist painting too close to the canvas: you simply don’t see it clearly. I think that this is one of our problems.

The things which are logical are suddenly not logical anymore and the time needed for logical and obvious decisions is simply too long. I am afraid that we do not always have the possibility to afford ourselves that luxury of time. Some of the questions call for answers now and the questions which are connected to the Lisbon strategy or to the future of Europe without any doubt belong to that category.

We talk a lot about subsidiarity and we practically ignore mutuality. In the EU we all become very interdependent. Lacking reforms in one country make reforms in other countries more difficult.

We need a positive and mobilising project, the realisation of the knowledge society offering opportunities for all, putting education, research and development, innovation, personal valorisation at the centre of our activities. Investment in human capital makes a lot of political, economic and social sense and it could create a broader basis for introducing the necessary approach.

We need a sensible reform introducing more flexibility, and an easily understandable approach with clear and realistic presentation of what the EU can offer, consistently with a true European interest. It is self evident that we need more cooperation and coordination in Europe due to globalisation challenges like climate change, terrorist threats, and economic competitiveness pressure.

The problem is that there is not too much Europe but rather that there is too little Europe. It requires more and more courage to say that publicly. There is probably increasingly popular saying among some opinion leaders outside Europe that Europeans like to study and debate good ideas until it becomes a bad one. So it is time to go to work!

I thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/05/633 Date: 21/10/2005 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item =>=>

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