The European Union is catching up with the US in innovation, claims a statistical report financed by the European Commission, although the US still enjoys many significant advantages.
However, the latest European Innovation Scoreboard warns that there are still serious problems that are keeping Europe from surpassing the US, notably tertiary education enrolments.
The report says: "In 2003, the population with tertiary education was 38 per cent in the US and 37 per cent in Japan; in 2005, it was 23 per cent in Europe."
But as evidence of Europe's progress in innovation, the report highlights increasing participation in EU lifelong learning; the growing number of European small and medium-size businesses considered innovative; and more sales of new-to-market products.
Within Europe, there are wide disparities in performance. Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and Germany rival world-leader Japan, while Britain, Iceland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Ireland match the US in a broadly second-ranked group of countries in terms of innovation.
The laggards in innovation are in eastern and southern Europe, with Estonia, Spain, Italy, Malta, Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia trailing poorly, and Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Portugal, Poland, Latvia, Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania behind but catching up.
Britain's innovation performance is "considerably above the EU average", with its strongest indicator, lifelong learning participation, 29 per cent in 2005 (EU average, 11 per cent).
nThe European Commission has launched a website, Erawatch (for the European Research Area), containing information on research systems and policies in all EU member states and other major countries such as the US, Japan and China.
The site is designed for science and research policymakers and for analysts. It carries details of policy documents, research programmes, funding agencies and research performance, plus indicators such as expenditure, publications and patents.