Brussels, 13 Aug 2003
A report prepared by an independent high level study group at the request of Commission President Romano Prodi has outlined a path for growth in Europe, which sees an emphasis on innovation, research and higher education.
'The Group views Europe's unsatisfactory growth performance during the last decades as a symptom of its failure to transform into an innovation-based economy,' states the report.
This change has become necessary in the context of globalisation and because Europe no longer needs to concentrate on reproducing what is done in the US, but on doing it better, according to the report.
'Contrary to the post-war period where growth and catching-up with the US could largely be achieved through factor accumulation and imitation, once European countries had moved closer to the technology frontier and also with the occurrence of new technological revolutions [...], innovation at the frontier has become the main engine of growth.'
Competition, in turn, creates a higher demand for both research and development (R&D) and higher education.
'Europe suffers from a lack of private sector investment in R&D, substantial although diminishing levels of public investment in R&D and poor efficiency in the distribution of available public funds,' according to the high level group. It is proposed that these weaknesses are addressed through tax credits for R&D and innovative investments, and additional public research spending at both national and EU level.
The report questions the models used for the allocation of research funding across Europe. It criticises the 'juste retour' principle, whereby each party gets back the equivalent of what it has paid in, for not paying enough attention to prioritisation or excellence.
Centrally directed research programmes, such as the European Commission's Framework Programmes for research, are also questioned. The high level group claims that, in general, the funding system can be lengthy and bureaucratic, and the projects selected for funding tend to be large and 'can quickly turn in to white elephants.'
The paper claims that the worst funding scenario occurs 'when elements of both dysfunctional models are combined', and urges the EU to introduce a more efficient organisation of research evaluation to 'act as a catalyst for spreading better practice across countries.' The report also recommends that competition for funding and peer review and ex-post evaluation by independent and internationally recognised researchers is always implemented so as to avoid repeat funding for poor projects and the emergence of white elephants.
In addition, the group recommends the creation of an independent European agency for science and research (EASR), which would be based on the US National Science Foundation, as well as the Nordic and British research councils. The new body would provide funding rather than advice; follow a bottom-up approach to encouraging proposals for funding; cover all scientific fields; base its decisions on scientific criteria, following a transparent peer review process; be accountable to its funders but autonomous in its operations; and run by highly respected scientists.
Europe's innovation and entrepreneurship record could also be boosted if the continent develops a positive attitude towards immigration from third countries, claims the high level group, which highlights the important contribution that immigrants make.
The concept of the European Research Area (ERA) is supported by the report, although the group claims that the idea is 'undermined by some of the structural characteristics of European research, in particular its fragmented character and the difficulty in getting the most out of Europe's undoubted scientific potential both in terms of the production of new knowledge and in terms of turning that knowledge into commercially-viable innovation.'
In terms of education, the high level group claims that the number of school leavers going on to complete higher education is 'manifestly inadequate for the knowledge-intensive economy, and calls for the establishment of equivalence between undergraduate degrees and curricula across EU countries. The report also recommends that new centres of excellence or new clusters of researchers should be encouraged through funding. To access the report (in pdf format), please: