Brussels, 15 Jan 2004
While the new President of the European Council, Bertie Ahern, touched only briefly on research when outlining his country's agenda for its six month stint at the helm of the EU, knowledge and innovation were highlighted by Commission President Romano Prodi as the Union's 'key priorities', as he responded to the presentation.
Mr Prodi called for a more proactive approach to the issue by Member State governments, saying that 'The Commission will make its proposals and the Council will take its decisions. However, nothing will actually happen until these decisions become policies at national level.'
The Commission President deplored the fact that there are 400,000 'top EU researchers' currently working in the US, and stressed that Europe must create research centres of excellence that are the best in the world. 'They must become the vital symbol of our belief in the future, and that here in Europe we are capable of planning for the future and making it happen,' he said.
Echoing previous calls for a 'new European Renaissance', Mr Prodi called for Europe to 'become what it was for centuries: the point of reference for young researchers throughout the world.'
Emphasising the urgency of the situation, he claimed that investment in education and research is not an 'abstract problem', but an issue to be addressed now, as international competitors are already overtaking Europe.
He concluded his address with a few words about Europe's researchers of the future, and their significance for European competitiveness.
'Our young people must be able to find in Europe the opportunities to study, work and be successful that are their right. I must stress that I am not speaking only in their interests; this is the key to our very survival,' he said.
Outlining the Presidency's work plan in the context of the Lisbon Agenda - the EU's goal of becoming the world's most competitive economy by 2010 - Mr Ahern said that the Presidency has placed sustainable growth and social cohesion 'at the very centre of its work programme'.
'We have achieved a great deal already,' he said, citing progress in areas such as research, telecommunications and environmental protection, but added that unless momentum is increased, the target will not be met. Mr Aherne therefore pledged to use the spring European Council to give 'renewed focus and impetus to the Lisbon Agenda.'