Brussels, 26 March 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having invited me to address this workshop.
This is an excellent occasion to exchange best practices on how to promote the role of SMEs as actors of research and innovation.
Mr. Sakkab's presentation on Procter & Gamble's strategy was very informative.
It encourages me in pursuing my objective of realising a European Research Area.
A European Research Area that should allow for greater and better cooperation in research, including between the public and the private sector.
I believe that the public sector's ability to catalyse public private partnerships in research and innovation will become a critical factor of Europe's competitiveness.
One way of promoting such partnership is through the creation of technology platforms.
It is not this public that needs convincing of the important role that SMEs play in our economy.
SMEs are drivers of innovation and economic growth.
That is why the EU has set up since 1995 specific actions for SMEs in the Research Framework Programmes.
Over the last 5 years, more than 20,000 SMEs have participated in European research projects.
In FP6, the political support for SMEs has been expressed by a commitment to spend 15% of the budget for SMEs.
This is an important commitment that we take very serious.
But it is not an easy task.
Our programmes aim at transnational R&D collaboration, which is not the primary interest of SMEs.
In general, 95% of SMEs have no or no significant research capacity of their own or in collaboration.
A study conducted in 2003 showed that most SMEs involved in FP5 projects had only limited research capability.
That is why I warmly welcome the DETECT-IT project and workshops such as the one today.
We need very practical and concrete measures to help SMEs overcome the difficulties in setting up and participating in European research actions.
At the same time, we need to draw the lessons as we are preparing the future.
In line with the Lisbon objective to become the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world, the European Commission has proposed to double the EU budget for research and innovation.
No one doubts that doing more and better in research is a key element for preserving our future welfare and quality of life.
Spending money on research is not a cost, it is an investment.
We have defined 5 axes for the EU's future research budgets:
- First, stimulating scientific excellence by supporting fundamental research.
Second, strengthening our human and physical resources, by supporting researchers and new infrastructure.
Third, fostering industrial competitiveness through technology platforms.
Fourth, promoting collaboration in research through updated forms of integrated projects, networks of excellence and STREPs.
Fifth, reinforcing coherence and synergy by coordinating national and regional research policies and programmes.
This question is open for debate and I am convinced it will be hotly debated in the months to come.
At this point, I would like to share with you some perspectives on this question.
I believe we need to make a distinction between different kinds of SMEs.
Our programmes should strongly encourage the participation of high-tech SMEs, which carry large potential for leading edge research and innovation in very specific areas.
The cooperation of high-tech SMEs with universities and larger corporations will be vital for Europe to make breakthrough progress in science and technology, but also in transforming research results into successful products and services.
I would consider it a success if higher numbers of spin-off companies could be created from EU-funded research.
For the very large population of lower-tech SMEs, schemes like collective research directed towards SME associations or groupings seem very adequate.
Encouraging the trans-national cooperation of lower-tech SMEs will remain a priority.
But this will be most productive if done in partnership with national and regional authorities.
Member States and regions know best their economic tissue and the needs of their SMEs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
SMEs are, in many ways, the lifeblood of our economy.
The European Commission strongly supports the objectives of the DETECT-IT project and the valuable role of the Business Innovation Centres.
Achieving the 15% target for SMEs in FP6 is not an end in itself.
Mobilising SMEs for research and innovation is a condition for Europe to become the most dynamic and competitive economy.
Thank you for your attention.