Final Results of the Informal Seminar of Industry and Research Ministers

February 4, 2002

Brussels, 01 February 2002

The Spanish Presidency convened for the first time a joint Informal Seminar of Industry and Research Ministers, which took place in S’Agaró-Girona on 1-2 February 2002

At a moment when the introduction of the Euro demonstrates the impact of common approaches on the European economy and social life, this Informal Seminar acknowledged the opportunity to take stock of the progress made towards the Lisbon objective of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society and to suggest further advancement towards the development of a cohesive European Research and Innovation Area, encouraging from basic research to entrepreneurship.

Important written contributions were put forward, such as the Report on R&D by the Economic Policy Committee, the Commission Communication on Life Sciences and Biotechnology - A Strategy for Europe, the 2001 Innovation Scoreboard, the Report from the Commission Services, and the Reports on Benchmarking of Enterprise Policy and National Research Policies. The Presidency presented, as well, various documents prepared at its request on related R&D and innovation matters.

This forum allowed for an open exchange of views, including the presentation and discussion of best practices in frontier technologies by leading figures in the industrial and research community and the European Commission. The European Investment Bank participated as well in the discussion on the mobilisation of risk capital resources.

The Informal Seminar stressed the need to close the existing gap with its main science and technology competitors. The European Union needs to achieve a sustained R&D and innovation performance that matches or beats the world’s best by 2010. To embed such performance, robust framework conditions are needed to create a positive environment for investors in R&D and innovation and to develop high levels of dynamic competition. Key indicators of success will include: higher levels of business R&D, higher level of patenting and stronger business innovation performance.

In this regard, participants acknowledged the usefulness of working towards an ambitious, quantitative R&D spending target. In addition, appropriate policy measures should be established to induce the private sector to contribute in achieving the European target of 3% of GDP by 2010, considered by many Member States as essential to increasing the level of innovation.

The Ministerial Debate highlighted the importance of a favourable economic and fiscal environment for R&D and innovation. It contemplated the evaluation of the various public support mechanisms to stimulate private investment (subsidies, fiscal incentives, guarantee schemes, public-private partnerships, and those aiming at facilitating capital risk finance) as a means to improving their effectiveness and assessing their multiplier effect, individually and in combination.

Along these lines, participants also highlighted the importance of guaranteeing that the re-direction of State Aids towards horizontal objectives results in increased R&D and innovation investment in the European Union.

The importance of improving the effectiveness of public R&D, and ensuring that resulting products find their way to the market, was also brought up.

The Informal Seminar pointed out as well the encouragement of mobility of researchers and technologists, particularly inter-sectorial (between industry and research centers and between the public and private sectors) and trans-national as an effective means headed for the efficient functioning of the European Research and Innovation Area, making it most attractive for the development of new ideas and for new products to find their way to an integrated European market.

The improvement of working conditions for mobile researchers, facilitating their integration and re-integration while encouraging a stable career, as well as the establishment of adequate information and assistance mechanisms, were also brought up as relevant issues.

Networking was also referred to as a vehicle to facilitate the flows between industry and science and speed up knowledge transfer.

Participants emphasised the need for further progress towards integrating European financial markets, thereby providing the adequate scale, depth and potential required to make the European risk capital market more attractive for world-wide investment, guaranteeing cost-efficiency and appropriate support for R&D and innovation.

Within this context, the Informal Seminar touched upon the need to further mobilise risk capital resources, strengthening the role of trans-national investment and fostering entrepreneurship, as well as encouraging a favourable regulatory framework. All of this, with a view to facilitating the full development of a dynamic and competitive European technology market which benefits from and stimulates innovation, developing the full potential of European enterprises as wealth generators and tackling the “stigma” problems associated to enterprise failures.

Harvesting the full potential of enterprises, in particular SMEs and new technology-based firms beyond the creation phase, requires taking into account their specific financial needs, ensuring improved co-ordination between public and private financial markets, along the lines of the European Investment Bank initiatives in support of R&D and innovation.

The Seminar highlighted the need to expedite the Community Patent, which should be safer, quicker and cheaper than the European Patent, in order to develop a favourable regulatory framework, particularly regarding intellectual property regimes, to act as an incentive towards R&D and innovation in an integrated European market, supporting the creation, development and consolidation of innovative firms. In this context, the question of the usefulness of a “grace period” was also brought up during the Debate.

The role of biotechnology and clean technologies, as cutting-edge and “enabling” technologies was also considered and illustrated through the presentation of best practices in these areas by leading personalities.

Participants recognised the importance of guaranteeing adequate conditions for R&D and innovation initiatives to flourish in these areas with a view to fostering a competitive and sustainable European industry and exploiting the full potential of biotechnology breakthroughs. The “Strategy for Europe” proposed by the European Commission Communication on Life Sciences and Biotechnology could be key to this aim.

In this context, it was considered important to further develop and train a skilled workforce, to enable innovative entrepreneurship and to promote closer science-industry links.

Safe and socially acceptable standards and their practical implications for enabling technologies were amongst the aspects brought up by participants. The need to ensure that R&D and innovation are successfully translated into new products and processes which find their way to the market was also alluded to.

Participants also emphasised the urgent need to foster research and technological developments to contribute to the fight against bio-terrorism.

During the second day of the Informal Seminar, Research Ministers examined a range of issues regarding the progressive mutual opening up of national RTD programmes. Participants acknowledged its importance as a key step forward in the construction and full development of the European Research Area.

They agreed on the need to ensure that these activities have a bottom-up approach, are grounded on the spirit of the open method of co-ordination, the variable geometry scheme, and the respect of the voluntarity and reciprocity principles.

In this context, Ministers considered important to optimise efforts and take action with a view to increasing mutual knowledge through information exchanges and stimulating cross-border co-operation. Establishing the networking of both national policy makers and managers of RTD programmes was considered crucial to this aim.

Further development of a tool gathering information on RTD national programmes was also considered convenient. In this context, CORDIS was mentioned as a potential useful instrument.

The need to contemplate existing on-going initiatives, such as those undertaken within Eureka and Eurocores was mentioned. Along these lines, participants highlighted the contribution that several multi-lateral European RTD initiatives, institutions and scientific associations are making to on-going co-ordination efforts.

The usefulness of envisaging potential openness to international evaluation was also brought up.

CREST was considered a very useful arena for the follow-up of this process. Industry Ministers discussed about the challenges and outstanding opportunities that new technologies bring about for Europe’s competitiveness potential. They stressed the need for a balanced approach to sustainable growth, which exploits existing synergies and takes into account environmental, social and economic, promoting the diversity of technological choices, commanding public understanding and confidence and boosting growth, industrial competitiveness and sustainability.

Participants highlighted the importance of the European Union initiative on sustainable growth, an initiative that should enhance and reinforce European industrial competitiveness and innovation in this domain. They also attached great importance to awarding renewed impetus to industrial co-operation initiatives while moving forward in achieving a more simplified regulatory framework.

Considered of great interest, there was unanimous agreement amongst participants on the need for a follow-up of this issue in future Industry Councils, especially since the economic aspects of this approach have important external implications for overall European industrial competitiveness.

Industry Ministers, in view of the current international situation and in order to guarantee continuous growth and stability in the European Union, recognised that there is a need to give a new impulse to industrial co-operation activities within the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.

The Industry Ministers stressed the need for a pragmatic approach that contributes to the overall goals of the Barcelona process. They agreed that there is a need to advance in the administrative and legal framework, concerning for instance technical standards and industrial regulations, as well as in fostering active co-operation between enterprises and technological centres of the European Union and the Mediterranean countries.

The forthcoming Euromediterranean Conference of Industry Ministers, to take place in Málaga on 10 April 2002, was unanimously considered as an essential step towards the achievement of the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area by 2010 and, ultimately, towards an area of shared economic prosperity. The Informal Seminar gathered consensus regarding the identification and exchange of best practices, through a comprehensive mutual learning process, as an effective method to move forwards in all these areas. Co-ordination and benchmarking of national policies at the European level were also mentioned as relevant strides forwards.

Both Industry and Research Ministers welcomed this opportunity of jointly addressing the main issues regarding the development of the European Research and Innovation Area.

Spanish Presidency Website http://www.eu2002.es

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