Brussels, 16 Mar 2006
Senior Commission officials were highly concerned that funding for innovation activities had been overlooked during European Council discussions on the EU's Financial Perspectives, according to David White, Director of Innovation Policy at DG Enterprise and Industry.
'We were extremely worried that the Council had forgotten innovation with all the focus on research and development,' Mr White told journalists at a briefing on 15 March. 'We don't have the final budget for CIP [the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme] yet, and the detail is not clear, but we are more hopeful now that there will be sufficient funds for innovation.'
According to the budget compromise reached by Europe's leaders at their December 2005 Council meeting, by 2013, EU funding for research is set to rise by 75 per cent compared with its 2006 level. However, the Commission had feared that innovation spending would actually fall by 20 per cent over the same period, forcing it to water down its plans for the CIP and threatening a number of new initiatives.
'Research is not the same as innovation,' stressed Mr White, 'and doing more research will not necessarily lead to more innovation. It is a very important element in the innovation process, but not sufficient it itself.' However, he does acknowledge that unlike research, simply allocating more money for innovation will not necessarily produce more of the desired results. Crucially, though, the Commission has learned much in recent years about how to effectively promote innovation, and is confident that an increase in funding now would be fully exploited.
To give an example, Mr White pointed to the recently completed PAXIS (pilot action of excellence on innovative start-ups) project, funded through the Sixth Framework Programme, which brought together 22 of Europe's most innovative regions to exchange best practice in innovation policy and practices. This initiative helped to confirm the importance of networking and innovative clusters and, crucially, proved that excellence can be learned.
To build on the success of PAXIS, the Commission is launching a follow-up initiative called PROINNO Europe, which aims to improve the coordination of national and sub-national innovation programmes and promote the cluster approach that has proved so successful across Europe's best performing regions. The Commission is currently in the process of defining contracts with interested regions, revealed Mr White, and he predicts that around 60 will eventually participate in the scheme.
'All of the PAXIS regions want to be a part of it, along with all the other top performing regions in Europe,' he said. To reflect the increase in scope of the new initiative compared with PAXIS, which had a budget of 29 million euro over five years, the Commission foresees a budget of between 75 and 100 million euro for PROINNO Europe over seven years. 'We're not exactly talking big bananas here - 75 million euro between 25 Member States is only 3 million per country,' said Mr White, stressing that total EU spending on innovation activities stands at around one per cent of what it spends on research.
Whether or not the eventual funding for PROINNO Europe meets the Commission's expectations will still depend on what the overall budget for CIP eventually turns out to be. However, to ensure that the results of the PAXIS initiative are transferred to the rest of Europe whatever the outcome of the CIP budget discussion, the Commission will shortly publish a manual of the best innovation tools, methodologies and policies identified in the project from which policy makers and practitioners across the EU can learn.
'Networking and the transfer of ideas is an art form in itself, and you cannot simply learn it from a book,' accepts Mr White. However, all of the regions involved in PAXIS have provided their contact details in the manual, and interested parties in other regions will be encouraged to get in touch in order to gain first hand support in the transfer process. 'We all know which the excellent regions are, and instinctively look to them for a lead. If they are showering off excellent ideas and initiatives, they will be picked up on,' Mr White concluded.