Philippe Busquin: Research in Europe, Lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh Edinburgh, 28 October 2002

October 29, 2002

Edinburgh, 28 October 2002

It is a great pleasure and a great honour for me to be able to speak in such a prestigious setting as the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Above all, I should like to thank the Royal Society of Edinburgh and its President, Sir William Stewart, and its President-elect, Lord Sutherland, for offering me this opportunity.

"Research in Europe", the title chosen for this lecture, covers a very broad subject.

I do not, of course, intend to talk about all the aspects, but will concentrate on a few essential points and look at them from a particular perspective.

To give you some idea of what I intend to speak about this afternoon, I will start by commenting on the title of this lecture.

One reason why "Research in Europe" is the title is that no equally general alternative could be considered:

  • "European Research" was impossible, because at the moment there is no European research as such, i.e. one cannot speak of European research as one might, for example, speak about American research;

  • "European Research Policy" was even less realistic, because, quite simply, there is no such European policy at present.

  • What could it possibly mean? The research policies of the various European countries added together? The policies of the various European science and technology cooperation bodies such as CERN and ESA? More specifically, EU policy? Everything combined?
These two impossibilities highlight a weakness of "Research in Europe" which affects its performance and our ability to make the most of its results for the benefit of the economy and citizens of Europe.

This is mainly what I want to talk to you about, as well as a few other key features of research and research policy in Europe.

Research in Europe: a contrasting image

The simplest and most accurate way of presenting and defining research in Europe is to say that Europe is and remains the second world scientific power.

Taking all disciplines together, Europe produces just over one-third of the total number of world scientific publications, i.e. more than the USA.

In terms of citations, it is, however, only in second place, a sign that, while world class research of the highest level of excellence is conducted in Europe, there is still not enough of it.

The respective weight of the major science and technology powers is basically fairly correctly reflected by the 2002 Nobel Prizes for Science awarded three weeks ago.

Of the nine prize winners for physics, chemistry and physiology/medicine, three (Kurt Wüthrich, Sydney Brenner and John E. Sulston) are European, four are American and two are Japanese.

A faithful reflection of a Europe which is holding its second place between the USA which continues to dominate and Japan which is steadily gaining ground in basic research.

Between 1950 and today, the USA has carried away 213 Nobel Prizes in these disciplines, Europe 144 and Japan 8.

Where applied research and technological development is concerned, the situation in Europe is less brilliant.

Despite clear strengths in areas such as aeronautics, telecommunications and pharmaceutical research, for many years Europe has had a deficit in its balance of trade in high-technology projects.

Its researchers and industry file comparatively fewer patents with the American and European patent offices than their American and Japanese counterparts.

And while the number of biotechnology companies in Europe, which has grown over the last five years, is at present around 1500, i.e. more than in the USA, the combined revenue of these companies and their total number of employees represent only one third of the figures for American companies.

The European Research Area: already more than just an idea but not yet a reality


There are three main features of research and research policy in Europe which are worth mentioning:

  • We do not spend enough on research, as a whole, and we spend less than our competitors.

  • We are less able to translate the results of scientific work into products and services, and commercial and economic successes.

  • Our efforts are dispersed and lack coherence as a result of fragmentation of activities and the inadequate coordination of policies conducted in Europe.
I will start with the last point.

To offset the effects and overcome the consequences, where research is concerned, of the trivial fact that Europe is made up of different countries, for nearly 50 years Europeans have embarked upon numerous cooperation initiatives:

  • cooperation in specific areas, such as particle physics, space, molecular biology, nuclear fusion and synchrotron radiation, and cooperation across the whole field of science and technology;

  • cooperation centring on major instruments or in the form of collaborative projects;

  • and cooperation in an intergovernmental framework or in the Community framework with the EU's Framework Programme for research.
On the basis of the finding that this sort of cooperation is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the development of a genuine Europe of research, an old idea, but one which never bore fruit, re-emerged at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 on a proposal from the European Commission.

The idea was to create a European Research Area.

It combines two strands:

  • the establishment of a genuine European "internal market" in research in which researchers, knowledge and technologies circulate freely;

  • the development of better coordination between national and regional research activities and policies which account for over 80% of the overall European research effort;
The EU's Framework Programme only accounts for 5% of public research spending in Europe. 20% if research projects alone are considered, but, on account of the persistence of barriers between national systems, this spending does not have a lasting proportionate impact.

The European Research Area is part and parcel of the objective set by the EU in Lisbon: to become by 2010 the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.

The focus of EU action in the research sphere, this initiative has rapidly become a reference framework for research policy issues in Europe.

It has in particular given rise to a first series of concrete achievements, which can be grouped together into three main categories.

First of all, the initiation of several wide-ranging areas of work corresponding to the different components of the European Research Area.

For example, the mobility of researchers which, in practice, still encounters numerous obstacles; research infrastructures, an area which by definition calls for a European approach; and the benchmarking of research policies to improve them by making comparisons and organising exchanges.

Two important aspects are the international dimension, because, as in other areas, Europe is not and must not become a fortress where research is concerned, and the regional dimension of the European Research Area.

I hardly need to point out here that the regions are playing an increasingly important role in terms of research and innovation. And if all the regions of Europe were to do so with such determination and effectiveness as Scotland, Europe would probably be in a much better state.

In the areas that I have mentioned, for example, a network of mobility centres has been established to provide information and assistance for researchers; a European Forum on research infrastructures has been set up; and a first benchmarking exercise has been completed with the production of 20 qualitative indicators and analyses on five topics, such as human resources in research.

The second major achievement is the in-depth restructuring of the EU's Framework Programme for research. The Sixth Framework Programme for the period 2003-2006 has been specifically conceived as an instrument for making a reality of the European Research Area.

This is reflected in particular by the following:

  • First of all, new support instruments with a structuring effect on European research, in particular because they make it possible to assemble critical masses of resources: networks of excellence to advance knowledge by integrating the capacities that exist in Europe and integrated projects conducted with a view to achieving well-defined results, based to a large extent on collaboration with industry.

  • Secondly, a virtual doubling of resources for support for the mobility of researchers, and greater support for research infrastructures, including electronic networks.

  • And last but not least, the mobilisation of 180 million euros for the networking and mutual opening-up of the national research programmes.
The Sixth Framework Programme was adopted in June, and the Specific Programmes through which it will be implemented were adopted in September. The Work Programmes are now being finalised, and a first series of Calls for research proposals will be launched by the end of the year.

The third type of achievement brought about by the European Research Area initiative is a series of developments directly involving the research players in Europe:

  • the creation of contact fora, such as the ACARE Group for aeronautical research, the European Platform for research on biodiversity and the High-Level Group for research on hydrogen and fuel cells;

  • the integration of the objectives of the European Research Area into the programmes of activities of the national organisations;

  • and a large number of bilateral and multilateral agreements.
Despite these first results, the European Research Area initiative is not, however, progressing as rapidly as would be desirable on account of the insufficient involvement of the Member States and national administrations

In order to provide new momentum, on the basis of a stocktaking of achievements so far, the Commission recently put forward suggestions for initiatives to be taken in order:

  • to strengthen the action in progress, e.g. by introducing measures to make it easier for third country researchers to come to and stay in the EU, and action concerning researchers' careers;

  • to give the initiative as a whole more powerful means of implementation as a result of a mechanism for the coordination of national research policies based on the setting of common European objectives, their translation into specific objectives for each country and the regular compiling of national reports.
Strengthening the European research effort

The European Research Area initiative is a response to one of the weaknesses which prevents Europe from fully exploiting its considerable scientific potential.

However, it is not enough to coordinate the efforts. They also need to be stepped up.

Europe cannot hope to keep up with its competitors, let alone become by 2010 the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world unless it substantially increases its research spending.

At present, and for many years, Europe assigns only 1.9% of its GDP to research, while the corresponding figures for its competitors are steadily increasing: 2.7% of GDP in the USA and 3% in Japan.

The gap today vis-à-vis the USA is €124 billion per annum. Some 84% of this gap (€104 billion) is attributable to the difference in research spending by firms.

At the Barcelona European Council, the EU therefore committed itself to increasing its research spending to as close as possible to 3% of GDP by 2010, with the bulk of the increase coming from a rise in private sector spending.

How can this be achieved? The Commission recently put forward a series of ideas in this connection, including how to encourage the private sector to invest more in research.

In what way? Two elements need to be combined:

  • first of all, better use of indirect and direct instruments in support of industrial research: fiscal measures to assist research and innovation; mechanisms to guarantee and stimulate risk capital; direct support measures;

  • secondly, the development of a more favourable environment for private investment by stepping human resources in research (five researchers per 1 000 of the active population in Europe compared with seven in the USA and nine in Japan); adapting the intellectual property rules, in particular for university research; favourable competition rules; adequate access to basic knowledge, etc.
The underlying hypothesis, on which there is broad agreement, is that the initiatives taken in this connection at national and regional level will be more effective if conducted within the framework of open coordination giving rise in particular to exchanges of experience and good practice.

The ideas put forward by the Commission are at present the subject of a wide debate. On the basis of the results and conclusions of this, proposals for concrete action will be put forward at the beginning of 2003.

I have just mentioned the regions. The regional dimension is particularly relevant in this connection.

Firms can invest in basic research, and it is desirable that they should do so to a greater extent than they do at present. However, the mobilisation of private capital is essential for the transition from the laboratory to the market, i.e. the transformation of scientific results into technological innovations.

From this point of view, Scotland is, in a way, a laboratory of good practice, with initiatives such as the Proof of Concept Fund launched by the Scottish Executive.

A society which welcomes research and innovation

I mentioned at the start three features of research in Europe. When mentioning the funding of innovation, I had the opportunity of dealing in part with the third feature, namely Europe's failure to exploit the results of scientific work.

However, it is not just a question of funding. Intellectual property conditions, for example, are directly concerned, as well as all the factors which, in universities, either encourage or, on the contrary, put a brake on and discourage the exploitation of scientific results.

The Commission will address this issue in particular in a Communication that it will shortly be presenting on the role of universities in a knowledge-based Europe.

In the knowledge-based economy and society, universities play a key role, as a result of their twin function of research and teaching and their growing role in the innovation process.

But there is something else, something more subtle, two elements that are more difficult to apprehend because they are of a cultural nature: on the one hand the spirit of enterprise; and on the other, the degree of receptiveness of society to innovation, linked with confidence in progress.

Like any human activity, scientific research gives rise to developments entailing risks which have to be evaluated, kept under control and minimised, but always in the certain knowledge that there is no such thing as zero risk.

Whether it is a question of nuclear power, GMOs or mobile phones, the same attitude is needed: an objective and balanced assessment of the advantages and risks, based on the only reliable source of information at our disposal, namely scientific knowledge based on experience and verification.

The image of research can be unfairly associated with problems for which it is not responsible and where, far from being the cause, science is a key element in their solution, e.g. BSE and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Even more so than in the first case, efforts must be made here to promote approaches based on rationality.

Institutions such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh have a role to play in this connection, a role which they already play to a large extent.

Since these issues arise more often then not on a European scale and in a European context, they should be addressed at European level to enable experience to be pooled and help to bring points of view closer together where differences of opinion are a source of difficulties.

Research, particularly in the field of life sciences and technologies, is also increasingly frequently leading to developments which raise ethical issues and controversy.

One example is research into embryonic stem cells, which gave rise to intense discussion during the debate on the Framework Programme and the Specific Programmes.

There were discussions between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and within both institutions between representatives with different political and philosophical views and between Member States.

Today I had the opportunity to visit the Edinburgh Institute for Stem Cell Research (ISCR).

Once again, I was convinced that, one day, this technology will be able to cure many diseases.

It is not always easy to find the middle way between respect for freedom of research and common values, on the one hand, and respect for different opinions, on the other; between the risk of skidding out of control and encouraging undesirable applications and the interests and suffering of sick people and those close to them.

In this connection, the Commission has proposed that research involving the use of embryos created for infertility treatment but no longer needed for this purpose could be funded under the Framework Programme but not research involving the creation of embryos solely for the production of such cells.

Following a compromise adopted by the Ministers, only research using isolated or banked humain embryonic stem cells in culture can be funded initially.

The funding of research involving the isolation of humain embryonic stem cells can be envisaged from the end of 2003 on the basis of guidelines on this subject and, of course, in compliance with the national legislation in all cases.

In spring 2003 the Commission will be putting forward a proposal for guidelines drafted in the balanced terms that I have just mentioned.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

From James Watt to Alexander Graham Bell; from James Clark Maxwell to Lord Kelvin; from Charles Lyell to D'Arcy Thompson, to name just a few, Scotland has given the world an astonishing number of outstanding scientists, engineers and technicians.

Scotland is keeping up its tradition of making use of the result of advanced research for the benefit of the economy, and high-level engineering with, for example, the Universities of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt, Glasgow and Dundee; with numerous research centres in the most vibrant areas of technology, such as information technology, artificial intelligence and biotechnology, e.g. the Roslin Institute which attracted the attention of the whole world as a result of Dolly the sheep; and with 24% of the total number of the fastest growing technology companies in the UK.

The European Research Area and the initiatives to which it is giving rise, afford research conducted in Scotland an opportunity of stepping up its contribution to research in Europe, while reaping the benefits of the efforts made elsewhere in an EU that will soon be welcoming ten new members.

The same applies to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with regard to all the efforts made in Europe to promote the advancement of knowledge and a better understanding of science, a task performed by the academies of science and learned societies since their inception, and which must continue to be performed.

All this with the prospect of, one day, being able to give a lecture such as this under the title not of "Research in Europe", but "European Research" or, why not, "European Research Policy".

Thank you.

DN: SPEECH/02/525 Date: 28/10/2002

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