Brussels, 16 December 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today. Your presence demonstrates that the continued momentum behind European Technology Platforms.
This is strongly encouraging as we are meeting at an important moment when European leaders across the street are deciding on the EU’s financial perspectives up to 2013.
In doing so, they decide, to a certain extent, on the kind of Europe they would like to see in the future.
I would like to give two messages in this respect.
My first is that we need an agreement on the Financial Perspectives and we need it now, so that we can start focusing on delivering what citizens expect from Europe.
My second is that a budget is an instrument that should reflect political objectives and priorities.
This is a debate we need to have in Europe: what should the European budget be for?
From the negotiations on the financial perspectives, one could conclude that the creation of the knowledge society - the number 1 priority in the renewed Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs - has become less important and less urgent over the last few months.
Nothing could be further from reality. And you, as industrial leaders, realise this more than anyone else.
Just last week, I presented the latest edition of our industrial R&D scoreboard.
The 2005 scoreboard contains some elements for optimism. The top industrial R&D investor in the world is a European company, Daimler Chrysler. And the top 700 R&D companies in Europe have picked up their R&D investment in the last year, contrary to the previous year.
But the scoreboard does not give any room for complacency. It shows that the top 700 companies outside the EU increase their R&D investment by a much higher percentage (about 7%) than their EU counterparts (0,7%).
We have industrial R&D champions in Europe, but too few of them and too little in high R&D-intensity sectors such as biotechnology, health and information technology.
Some voices are now raised claiming that investment in R&D is not a guarantee for success.
That is an obvious statement of fact. Who in his right mind would disagree with that?
But I think few people would disagree with the fact that too little investment in R&D is a recipe for failure in the globalising, increasingly competitive and knowledge-based economy?
That is to say, if we want to promote sustainable growth and prosperity and compete on other factors than low wages or the environment.
I accept that at the company level, it is difficult to establish a link between, on the one hand R&D investment (too often considered as a cost rather than an investment, I believe) and commercial or other success on the other hand. I would be curious to know if this link could be established at the level of industrial sectors.
But, for sure, the positive correlation between R&D or knowledge investment and economic growth or employment has been convincingly demonstrated. The Scandinavian countries and Ireland are typical examples.
But R&D and innovation are not only determining factors for competitiveness and economic growth.
Last week, the Commission published a follow-up report on the EU’s sustainable development strategy. Research was singled out as a key driver.
Research is highlighted as a condition, maybe not sufficient but certainly necessary, to meet a broad range of challenges that our society faces.
Let me cite a few that I have picked up recently:
- Avian flu or the spread of AIDS: we should invest in research for new vaccines.
- Rising petrol prices and climate change: we should invest in clean technologies.
- Noisy air planes and congested air traffic: we should invest in green aircraft and develop a technologically-advanced air traffic management system.
- Ageing populations: we have to invest in new technologies to support the quality of life of our elderly.
The latest UK presidency proposal of Wednesday also reflects this awareness. It identifies research as the priority within the competitiveness heading of the EU budget. It says that the EU research budget should grow such that it achieves a growth of 75% in real terms compared to the 2006 budget.
The size of the European R&D budget is not only important for the leverage effect it can have on investment and economic activity. This is widely accepted. On 28 November, the Council adopted a “virtual political agreement” on our proposal for the 7th Framework Programme. The Council more or less endorsed the Commission’s proposal. Parliament is also very supportive.
But the size and the share of R&D in the European budget are a good indicator of where our challenges and opportunities lie and where we should be working more and better together in Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I do not think we will get all the funds for FP7 that Europe needs and that the Commission had asked for.
But my message to you today is that there is a momentum for investing in research and innovation. And this makes your role as technology platforms more important than ever.
A fair number of technology platforms have succeeded in rallying industry, large and small, the research community, the financial world and other stakeholders, including Member States, around ambitious research and technology visions and agendas for various sectors.
You are making the European Research and Innovation Area concrete and thereby demonstrating that working together at European level makes a lot of good sense, with strong added value for companies and researchers working at national or regional level.
I count on you to continue relentlessly in this direction.
I see two main issues for action.
One is to make sure that best use will be made of the reduced European budget. The other is to improve the framework conditions for R&D in Europe.
Firstly, about the European budget.
As we will have to adjust for a smaller budget for FP7 than we had anticipated, we will have to prioritise and focus our resources on those topics that have the greatest added value, both in terms of the European dimension and in terms of transforming knowledge into growth.
Many of your strategic agendas have already inspired our proposals for FP7, particularly in the specific programme for cooperation, making them more relevant to the needs of industry.
You should be our close partners in the continuous prioritisation of FP7 as we will move towards drafting work programmes. You would also help the Commission if you are pushing for a coordinated implementation of the Framework Programme across thematic priorities, and, let me stress this, with national programmes.
I am encouraged to see that European Technology Platforms are beginning to play their part in influencing research programmes at national or regional level. National authorities are increasingly promoting the platforms and are taking steps to raise awareness among their industrial actors. I think this is crucial. Equally, the synergy being developed by some platforms with other international programmes such as EUREKA are important.
I would also strongly plead for the Technology Platforms to look at opportunities for investing in R&D and innovation in the context of the structural funds. My colleague in charge of regional policy, Danuta Hübner, stresses – rightly in my view – the contribution that structural funds, particularly but not only in the new Member States, can and should make to knowledge and innovation. The Commission has already adopted strategic guidelines to this effect.
Given that structural funds are programmed and decided to a large extent at national and regional level, but with a European interest in mind, I believe that Technology Platforms could usefully draw attention to opportunities for investment in their sector.
Secondly, about the framework conditions for research and innovation.
This is where the real challenge lies and where we can have the biggest impact, particularly to fuel private sector involvement and investment in research.
In October, I proposed together with my colleague Gunther Verheugen a common approach to boost research and innovation in Europe.
Our common action plan, endorsed by the Competitiveness Council end November, identifies 19 different measures on which Commission and Member States should work together to create better conditions for private sector investment – and success – in research and innovation.
The action plan includes such measures as fiscal incentives for R&D, a more research-friendly state aid regime, better use of public procurement for promoting research and innovation, more technology-enhancing regulations, etc.
I would invite Technology Platforms to be driving forces for the implementation of all these measures, in particular for those that benefit the further development of your sectors.
In this regard, I would like to argue that Technology Platforms should become the architects for the creation of lead markets, oriented towards new technologies that meet societal demands in areas such as health, energy, and so many others.
You could do that by strongly involving the regulators and other societal interest groups at European, national and regional levels and presenting them with coherent road maps for creating forward-looking lead markets.
I would be very interested in receiving from you concrete examples of how we could promote successful innovations by overcoming unnecessary regulatory or other barriers.
In this context, you could also provide the Commission with guidance on how dissemination and exploitation activities within the Framework Programme could be better targeted towards future market penetration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you can see, I put high hopes and high confidence in the role that Technology Platforms can play.
I am more convinced than ever that you can be true champions of turning knowledge into growth.
I nevertheless would like to point to two factors that I believe are crucial to help ensure your success – and ultimately ours as well.
The first is openness and transparency. The need for your platforms to demonstrate openness and transparency will become even more important as you move to the implementation of strategic research agendas. If platforms are perceived as closed shops of narrow, big industry interests, their impact would rapidly decline.
I acknowledge the efforts you have made to date and take this opportunity to encourage you to continue doing so. We, from our side, are trying to promote your activities as widely as possible, as illustrated by the brochure that DG Research has produced and an upgraded website.
The second factor is to avoid dilution of technology platforms. The initiative for setting up technology platforms should come from industry, but we should avoid that there is a technology platform for every subject or lobby under the sun.
We should not replicate our research fragmentation in Europe in a fragmentation among many technology platforms.
This also means that the commitment at the highest level in companies remains vital and that there should be a minimum of coherence among different technology platforms, without falling into a trap of one-size-fits-all.
Before concluding, I would like to briefly touch on Joint Technology Initiatives.
In its proposal for the 7th Framework Programme, the Commission has identified six areas in which a Joint Technology Initiative could have particular relevance.
In due course, the Commission will propose for decision by the Competitiveness Council, the areas where it believes an Initiative should be launched.
Obviously, the budget available will greatly influence the number of such Initiatives.
But before that, as we stressed in our report to the European Council last June, it is for leaders of the industries concerned to prove the case that a Joint Technology Initiative is justified. They must demonstrate the capacity to produce concrete deliverables that enhance significantly Europe’s competitiveness.
I would like to make it clear that the Commission will only propose Joint Technology Initiatives where it is reassured that this case has been made convincingly.
And having witnessed the discussions in Council on Joint Technology Initiatives, I do not think this can be taken for granted.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by saying that we need your success as much as you need it.
To put it in terms that business people understand: the European Commission is one of your shareholders, at least politically speaking but hopefully more than just politically.
We want to invest in you, because we strongly believe that your action can yield interesting dividends - for your companies and for society.
We are not opportunistic investors. We invest for the long haul, but of course we want to see results.
I trust that you will do what you can to optimise the shareholder value that we would expect.
I wish you an excellent seminar this afternoon and thank you for your attention.