Brussels, 15 Dec 2004
Analysis by CREST, the EU's scientific and technical research committee, of the suitability of the 'open method of coordination' as a tool for meeting the Barcelona objective of increasing research investment to three per cent of GDP has produced mixed results. The exercise has resulted in concrete results such as the establishment of networks, but has also suffered from a lack of clarity, found CREST.
The 'open method of coordination' (OMC) is a soft governance tool employed to ensure progress in policy areas that fall inside the Member States' competence. It involves fixing guidelines with fixed timetables for achieving goals, establishing indicators and benchmarks, implementing national and regional strategies and targets, and periodic monitoring.
The benefits to Member States brought about by the application of OMC include: the establishment of networks of national policy makers; the collection, collation and exchange of information on national policies (providing a base for future policy making); identification of good practices; and the identification of key issues and recommendations for the future.
Indeed, CREST itself has drafted 30 recommendations, based on its examination of progress thus far. The recommendations are grouped in five categories: public research spending and policy mixes; public research base and its links to industry; fiscal measures and research; intellectual property and research; and SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and research.
Some of these recommendations are aimed at addressing what CREST describes as the lack of a 'clear model' of OMC with regard to research policy. The future model should 'enable more detailed examination of those Member State policies which are likely to have the greatest impact on increasing R&D [research and development] levels,' states CREST, and should 'optimise the engagement and commitment of senior Member State policy makers by balancing their involvement with appropriate external support.'
The first CREST recommendation relates to the establishment of a common understanding among Member States on the design and implementation of national policy mixes. 'Policy mix in most Member States is more often an outcome of autonomous policy developments than the result of a coherent and comprehensive design process,' states the report. It then calls for the effectiveness of public actions to boost R&D to be increased through a combination of direct financial measures (such as R&D grants, loans and public technology procurement), fiscal incentives, and access to the private financial market.
CREST also recommends forging more coherence between the processes and techniques used by Member States to estimate public R&D budget needs in the light of potential increases in the EU R&D and innovation budgets. A number of Member States already have in place tools for assessing public budget needs: Sweden and the Netherlands consult stakeholders; Ireland and Poland conduct foresight exercises in priority setting and public budget needs; and Slovenia, Spain and Portugal carry out surveys on the absorptive capacity of the R&D community.
Under the heading 'public research base and its links to industry', CREST recommends encouraging the reform of public research centres and universities, in particular in order to promote the transfer of knowledge to society. This could be done through EU guidelines on commercialisation and incentive strategies, mechanisms to promote intellectual property rights management in public research centres and universities, collaboration between existing technology transfer associations, and a voluntary peer review process, suggests CREST. The report also proposes involving the private sector in the shaping of public research programmes.
Turning to fiscal measures, CREST calls for more consideration of the needs of new research-intensive firms during the design of fiscal measures to support R&D, and for Member States to share the lessons learned through such policies.
Recommendations in the area of intellectual property rights (IPR) concern the coherence and effectiveness of IPR ownership regimes in public research organisations and funding for such activities, IPR training for students and the accreditation of IPR professionals.
SMEs should be assisted through targeted policies in order to reach a broad range of firms at different stages in their development, and, importantly, programme stability. 'Firms, in particular SMEs, tend to be uncomfortable with variability of the schemes across time. This is more critical for SMEs given the lack of resources to 'digest' the new 'engineering' of a scheme and preparing proposals for submission,' states CREST. 'Familiarity and acquaintance with a programme tends to be an important factor favouring the propensity of SMEs to use it,' the report continues.
Ministries are also asked to give priority to SMEs performing R&D when drafting the programme documents for the EU's Structural Funds for 2007 to 2013.
CREST concludes that in addition to benefits in the fields of networking and benchmarking, the OMC has also led to some progress towards meeting the Barcelona objective. Initial findings suggest, however, that 'these efforts may not be sufficient to meet the objective in numerical terms.' To access the CREST report, please visit: http:///www.cordis.lu/library/