Brussels, 18 Jul 2003
'It is not true' that the Italian government does not recognise the importance of research, the country's Deputy Minister for Education, Universities and Research, Guido Possa, told CORDIS News on 17 July.
Mr Possa was responding to a statement from the elected representatives of Florence's scientific research institutions, which argued that 'the Italian political class remains totally blind to the research world.'
The Italian government has already announced its intention to promote an increase in research spending, in line with the Commission's goal of increasing research to three per cent of GDP (two thirds of which should come from the private sector) by 2010, while it holds the EU Presidency. And at home, Italy is itself pledging to boost investment in research.
'It is not true [that we do not recognise the importance of research],' said Mr Possa. 'The government has already approved an increase in spending. In 2003 we allocated more resources than in 2002, and in 2002 [we allocated] more than in 2001, so the trend is positive. We are a new government after five years of Centre Left government, when public spending didn't increase. By contrast we have already increased spending in two years. We have also realised that we need to restructure and promote collaboration between the public and private sectors.'
Mr Possa also said that the government has a perception of Italy's problems, a number of which are peculiar to Italy because of the extent to which the country's economy is made up of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs do not tend to develop a medium or long term research strategy, the deputy minister added.
Mr Possa alluded to his own country's difficulty in increasing its number of researchers, which is necessary in order to increase research investment so significantly. 'I do not try to hide the extreme difficulty or impossibility of doing this,' Mr Possa told CORDIS News. The Commission has estimated that the EU needs to produce an extra 100,000 researchers per year over the next seven years in addition to those needed to replace those researchers who are now retiring. 'How are we supposed to create 100,000 more [per year], when we are only producing half that amount at the moment?' he asked. 'It is almost an impossible task. Researchers are the result of a long education process.'
Nevertheless, Italy will do all it can to achieve these goals, said Mr Possa. Perhaps the first thing to do, he suggested, would be to 'think about where the gaps are'. For example, Europe is ahead of the US in terms of automobile research, but not in the pharmaceutical field.
In terms of reaching the three per cent spending target, Mr Possa said that the Italian government approved an increase in public research investment a month ago. The aim is to increase investment to one per cent of GDP from the current level of 0.6 per cent by 2008. The original plan was to achieve this by 2005, but, said Mr Possa, current economic conditions have meant that this is no longer achievable.
More realistic, perhaps, is what Mr Possa described as the main goal of the Italian Presidency in the field of research: 'to give momentum to the activities established by the previous presidencies and the Commission.' //CPA