Brussels, Apr 2004
Despite their strength in many areas of basic research and higher education, the EU's ten new Member States are some way behind the rest of Europe in terms of innovation and technology transfer, according to a Hungarian innovation expert.
Through his company Laser Consult, based in Szeged, Hungary, Dr Péter Mogyorósi has spent the last 12 years helping companies and public institutions in the region and beyond to adopt and implement innovation processes. However, he warns that more innovation support and awareness raising is needed if the enlarged EU hopes to achieve its competitiveness goals.
'In [the new Member States] the real weaknesses are technology transfer, innovation support systems and general awareness of innovation, especially among SMEs [small and medium sized enterprises],' Dr Mogyorósi told CORDIS News. 'These weaknesses can be addressed through the development and implementation of regional innovation strategies and by convincing policy makers to provide more support.'
Dr Mogyorósi also argued that the move towards larger scale projects under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), together with complex administrative requirements, had acted as a barrier to participation for companies in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly smaller enterprises.
'What FP6, and ultimately FP7, needs is a special accession country programme in the same way that SMEs currently have. If the EU doesn't provide more assistance to those Member States whose annual research expenditure is below one per cent of GDP, then achieving the [Barcelona and] Lisbon targets will be very difficult,' he said.
Of particular concern for Dr Mogyorósi is the commercialisation of research carried out in the new Member States: 'Organisations here need efficient assistance - not money - in the area of knowledge transfer from countries like the UK and Sweden, which are traditionally strong in that area. Send bright people over from these countries to teach innovation management.'
'We have to retrain scientists, engineers and perhaps economists to be able to handle complex innovation and technology transfer processes, and this is only possible through on the job training,' he added.
By employing such methods, Dr Mogyorósi is optimistic that innovation levels in the new Member States can be brought up to match those in other parts of the EU. Homegrown initiatives, such as Hungary's new 20 million euro national innovation funds, add to that sense of optimism, he said.
Another key tool in raising the general level of innovativeness in Central and Eastern Europe is networking, believes Dr Mogyorósi. His company is one of only a few Hungarian members of the European Association for the Transfer of Technologies, Innovation and Industrial Information (TII), which he described as a 'real innovation and technology transfer club'.
Several years ago, Dr Mogyorósi suggested that TII should hold their annual conference in one of the candidate countries in order to spread their message of cooperation in the field of innovation, and gain more members from Central and Eastern Europe. 'I think other companies in [the region] need to understand the importance of networking for innovation. I have always found that the costs of travelling and attending meetings has been well worth it in the end,' he said.
Indeed, the next TII annual conference and general meeting will be held in Budapest from 12 to 14 May, where Dr Mogyorósi will be giving a presentation on the challenges facing technology transfer in the context of enlargement.
Underlining his sense of optimism for the future, Dr Mogyorósi points to the achievements already made in the 'enlargement' of the research sector, through the EU's Framework Programmes, and initiatives such as COST and Eureka. 'Research is already a leading field of European integration,' he said. His hope must be that innovation will follow the same route.
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