Brussels, 18 Mar 2003
In order to become the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010, further efforts are necessary to meet the challenges facing European research, said EU Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, as he presented the latest science and technology (S&T) indicators on 17 March in Brussels.
The third European report on S&T indicators presents up to date information on investment in and performance of European research. It also reflects upon the heightened emphasis of Europe's transition to a knowledge-based economy, as called for by the Lisbon European Council.
In particular, it compares Europe's position in these matters with its main competitors, Japan and the US, and makes policy orientated conclusions concerning the S&T trends.
'We cannot have political dialogue without a basis for common and objective comparison,' said Mr Busquin, emphasising the need for policy makers to have at their disposal a common information base about European research trends and performances.
The Commissioner added that the indicators would enable European leaders in research and innovation to monitor their progress. 'The aim is to map out and highlight the areas where Europe excels. [...] To address our shortcomings and build on our strengths; we must first focus on the benefits that Europe has to offer.'
One of the strengths, according to the report is Europe's huge wealth of human resources in science and technology. At university level, the EU is producing more S&T graduates than the US and Japan. The figures in 2002 showed that the EU had a total of 2.14 million graduates compared with just over 2 million in the US and a little more than 1 million in Japan.
However, as Mr Busquin pointed out, the European 'brain factory' is seriously depleted as fewer students are following studies in the field of science and technology.
Furthermore, 'brain drain' is on the increase, with the US attracting a large number of European researchers and proving capable of retaining them, offering competitive career and employment opportunities. The study estimates that nearly 75 per cent of European PhD graduates prefer to stay on in the US after their studies are completed.
In response to this, Mr Busquin highlighted the Sixth Framework Programme's (FP6) return and reintegration actions, which he believes will help reduce the number of researchers who opt for a career outside of Europe.
Another step in the right direction is the strong emphasis placed on university-industry cooperation in Europe. In 1999 the European business sector financed nearly 7 per cent of European university research expenditure, compared to 6.3 per cent in the US and 2.3 per cent in Japan, reveals the study.
Although Europe already boasts a greater proportion of business involvement than Japan or the US, Mr Busquin urged better synergy between these sectors so that industry can absorb the research results from other areas.
'The most important challenge remains the exploitation and commercialisation of science in order to boost growth and employment and improve social cohesion,' noted Mr Busquin.
While the report shows that Europe is performing well in commercialising research in the field of pharmaceuticals, it illustrates a weak performance in the field of computers and electronics. According to Mr Busquin, the high tech trade deficit is a symptom of Europe's weakness in these fields: The study notes that high tech imports rose to over 233 billion euro in 2000, resulting in a trade deficit of some 48 billion euro.
To turn the situation around, Mr Busquin said that it is important for Europe to be at the forefront of the biotechnology and nanotechnology revolutions. As the study shows, while there is a larger scientific production in the biotech field in Europe, businesses are currently lagging behind in the commercialisation and patenting of biotech products.
'The importance of these new technologies goes well beyond their scientific and technical proposes. [They] generate economic growth and employment.'
To meet these objectives, Mr Busquin reiterated the need for greater levels of investment: The results in the report indicate a widening gap in research and development spending between the EU and the US.
While the growing gap is mostly due to a low contribution by the private sector, Mr Busquin also urged finance ministers from Member States to view funding of scientific research not as expenditure but as an investment in future economic growth.
'Forecasts presented in the first part of the report indicate that if no major changes are made in national and regional R&D [research and development] and innovation policies, and the 3 per cent is not reached, then the gap in 2010 will be more significant,' concluded Mr Busquin.
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