Brussels, 16 Nov 2004
In the run up to the fourth 'forum for innovative enterprises', co-organised by the European Commission and the regions of Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, Director-General of the European Commission's Enterprise DG, Horst Reichenbach, spoke to CORDIS News about the factors impacting upon innovation today, and where the responsibility lies for its facilitation.
'Innovation is about turning ideas into new products and services and new business processes,' said Dr Reichenbach. While the Commission has already proposed measures to tackle the more obvious barriers to innovation, including investment in research and development (R&D) and cumbersome regulation, the Commission also has 'the ambition to improve the way the 'innovative dimension' is considered in all other Community polices,' explained the Director-General.
The concept of 'innovation' is not limited to technological inventions in the eyes of the Enterprise DG. While Dr Reichenbach believes that distinctions cannot be made between technological and non-technological forms of innovation, the Commission is aiming to promote all types of innovation, be it technological, organisational or presentational.
'To be efficient, technological innovation needs to be complemented by a revision of business processes and organisational schemes. This is a lesson we have learned from the information technology [IT] revolution and how IT has boosted (or not) productivity level,' said Dr Reichenbach.
While the Commission can propose measures to encourage innovation, it is ultimately companies themselves who must innovate in order to survive in an increasingly competitive environment, and national governments who must ensure that they are able to do so. The role of the public authorities is to establish the right framework conditions, which include facilitating access to finance, proposing innovation-friendly product legislation and increasing public spending on research, according to Dr Reichenbach.
And increasingly governments are recognising that stimulating innovation is a determining factor for competitiveness, claimed the Director-General. A common framework for objectives, which Dr Reichenbach believes would reduce the 'innovation gap' between Europe and the US, is still missing, however. 'The European Commission will try to persuade Member States to take necessary action in this respect, by benchmarking innovation performance at national level and clearly identifying strengths and weaknesses,' said Dr Reichenbach.
The Commission is no doubt hoping that such actions will contribute to the Lisbon goal of making Europe's economy the most competitive in the world by 2010. Four and a half years since the goal was set and approaching the half-way mark, the innovation gap has widened rather than closed, with the exception of Finland and the Scandinavian countries.
'Overall progress in the Lisbon process has indeed not been satisfactory. What is needed is fresh political impetus from Member States and the Commission alike in order to re-focus the Lisbon process and further foster innovation in Europe,' said Dr Reichenbach.
The regions too have innovation responsibilities. 'Innovation is mainly about entrepreneurship. Regions are closer to entrepreneurs and much better placed to interact with them directly than the national authorities or the European institutions,' explained Dr Reichenbach. 'Promoting innovation is a combination of many different factors, and regions hold the key to many of them.' Dr Reichenbach gave the examples of creating new companies as well as clusters between enterprises, universities and regional authorities through regional policies in order to illustrate this point.
The European Commission assists the regions in doing this through PAXIS. Launched in 1999, the programme has two major objectives: to boost the transfer of local and regional excellence in innovation; and to provide an instrument for cooperation and the exchange of knowledge between local innovation stakeholders. The Forum for Innovative Enterprises will see the bestowing of this year's award for 'excellence in innovation transfer'.
Some 22 regions are members of PAXIS, and other regions are able to associate themselves with the networks, as Sophia recently did. 'This initiative has been very helpful to identify and share good practice, from the exploitation of the results of public research, to setting up networks of business angels or to the creation of seed capital funds for innovative start-ups,' said Dr Reichenbach.
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