Brussels, 26 Nov 2003
Warnings by research analysts were confirmed on 25 November when EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin unveiled new statistics on Europe's scientific performance, which show a drop in both investment and performance.
'Key Figures 2003-2004' provides comprehensive data on all types of research investment, as well as indicators enabling an assessment of performance. For the first time, the statistics also include data from the acceding and candidate countries, offering an insight into areas of convergence and divergence between the existing and future Member States.
The statistics show that Europe is even losing its leadership with regard to the number of scientific publications published.
'This is the logical outcome of under-investment in basic research,' said Mr Busquin. 'Basic research is increasingly falling victim to difficult budgetary conditions in the Member States, but this is not the right response to ensure growth and prosperity in Europe. [...] The political message is that, more than ever, Europe must make a real effort. Progress is being made at the level of words, but we must now take action.'
The research and development (R&D) investment gap between the EU and the US has continued to grow in favour of the US. Around 80 per cent of the gap is the result of different levels of business R&D expenditure in Europe and the US. For the EU to reduce this investment gap, the annual growth rate for R&D investment would have to be almost doubled - 8 per cent instead of the current 4.5 per cent.
One should not think, however, that private R&D investment is decreasing in the EU. On the contrary, spending increased by 50 per cent between 1995 and 2001. But in the US, expenditure rose by 130 per cent over the same period.
Growth in overall performance declined in almost every Member State between 2000 and 2001, although to a lesser degree than for investment. Looking at the acceding countries, it is possible to distinguish two groups of countries. Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Malta and, to a lesser extent, Poland, were all catching up with the EU-15 in 2000 and 2001, each with a productivity growth rate that was above the EU average. The remaining acceding countries were falling further behind over the same period, although strong investment growth in Slovakia, Estonia and Cyprus mean that a substantial improvement is likely.
Assessing the impact of enlargement, the Commission concludes that 'Europe's strength in scientific output will be reinforced but its technological performance will not follow the same rhythm, at least in the short term.'
The current Member States hold on to the positions they attained in the second half of the 1990s, although new tendencies are now evident. The southern countries (Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy) were still lagging behind in 2001, and their catching up with the rest of Europe appeared to have slowed down significantly. France, the UK, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands all kept their average positions, although Germany experienced a drastic drop in investment growth, which even became negative in 2001.
Finland, Denmark and particularly Sweden were still far ahead of the other Member States in 2001, and were increasing the gap. The figures therefore imply that the current economic downturn is creating more divergence within the EU.
The importance of a strong European research sector has been recognised by Commission President Romano Prodi, as evidenced by his Initiative for Growth, which includes additional investment in research. Mr Busquin welcomed this initiative, and said he believes that other colleagues in the Commission are beginning to see the importance of promoting research.
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