EESC Opinion: Research and innovation (link)

July 12, 2006

Brussels, 5 July 2006

OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee on Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme: Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - More Research and Innovation - Investing for Growth and Employment: A Common Approach COM(2005) 488 final _____________
Full text of Opinion in MS Word file on ESC website

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The EESC calls on the Commission to provide budget indications as soon as possible and to include a clear system setting a precise date for monitoring and evaluating this communication, for instance 2008. Furthermore, the EESC believes there is a need for a Commission report that brings together all the expert group reports relating directly to the communication, accompanied by an evaluation of the recommendations made. These indications must be consistent with the option and actions chosen. Lastly, as part of the drive to overcome existing fragmentation, it would be useful to have a chart listing all the people responsible at all levels (in the regions, Member States and European institutions) for coordinating the actions proposed in COM(2005) 488 . The Commission has made prodigious efforts with the country trendcharts. These describe research and innovation institutions and could be used as the basis for such a chart. It would also be worthwhile looking into the experiences of US virtual agencies with regard to research and innovation.

The EESC would also note that the communication fails to define key concepts (research, innovation, knowledge and technology). The Commission, however, has backed trans-European research to arrive at those definitions. Work has also been done by Eurostat and the OECD to define innovation. The latest European Innovation Scoreboard on the ratio between innovation input and output develops the concept of innovation efficiency and views R&D as an innovation input. In addition, a clearer distinction must be drawn between actions targeting research and innovation as such and policies to promote the right conditions for innovation (such as: training, reception and support for worker mobility, support for SMEs and less-favoured regions during ICT uptake, where the costs are proportionately higher than for other players). In other words, a distinction must be made between innovation in the form of new products and services on the market and innovation as a process. The first is a necessary but not sufficient condition for dynamic endogenous growth.

The EESC has been following this matter very closely and has issued a number of opinions on the vast field covered by COM(2005) 488 , but there is only room for a brief mention of them here. They include in particular an opinion on the European research area (CESE 595/2000), which picks up on all the themes covered in COM 488, especially in point 7 on "Research and technological innovation" and point 8 on the need for "Staff exchanges between research centres and industry".

Opinion CESE 724/2001 on Science and society noted the role which fundamental research has played in most of the great discoveries. The EESC's opinion on Europe and basic research looks at the link with applied research, and stresses the question of patents: point 2.5 mentions the urgent need for a system of European patents that includes a grace period between the publication of scientific findings and the patenting of its use, following the example of the USA. It must be possible to obtain the Community patent quickly and at low cost. The EESC regrets the delay on this, which has been caused by language issues.

The EESC opinion on researchers in the European Research Area backed the European Researcher's Charter and in point 5.4 agreed on the imperative need for exchanges between academia and industry. Recommending that greater value be placed on experts with years of experience, the opinion stressed the need for a greater compatibility and recognition of the various aspects of social security and housing, all the while aiming to protect family cohesion (point 5.5.5). Another opinion of note looked at science and technology. In its opinion on the seventh framework programme for research, the Committee stressed the importance of the endeavour and commented on the funding and organisation into sub-programmes and nine research subjects, on which it issued separate opinions.

In its opinion on competitiveness and innovation 2007-2013, the EESC noted the importance of participation by SMEs and the social partners in innovation: for innovation to be successful, they have to be closely involved. In its recent opinion on a policy framework to strengthen EU manufacturing, the EESC welcomed the sectoral emphasis, but pointed out that coordination requires resources, whereas there is no budget. It hoped that workers' skills, which remain a cross-sectoral issue, would receive the necessary attention. A more integrated industrial policy is very important: the EU manufacturing industry "employs over 34 million people" and "over 80% of EU private sector R&D expenditures are spent in manufacturing".

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European Economic and Social Committee

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