The European Science Congress - the challenges of investing in R&D

April 8, 2004

Strasbourg, 07 Apr 2004

"A vast increase in investment in Research and Development to catch up with the US and Japan is necessary, but throwing money at Europe's problems is not enough." This was one of the key messages from Alejo VIDAL-QUADRAS ROCA (EPP-ED, E) which came out of the two-day high level European Science Congress held in the European Parliament. The Congress shared the view that Member States, the European Parliament and Council all share the political will to invest more in R&D, but the question now "was not what but how."

The principal purpose of the conference was to support the Barcelona target of raising total European research spending to an annual rate of 3% of GDP by 2010 - a target which the European Parliament supported in its resolution of 18 November 2003 on the Commission's Communication 'Investing in research: an action plan for Europe'.

As Giorgos DIMITRAKOPOULOS (EPP-ED, GR) pointed out "at the present time, the average level of investments in research totals only 1.9% of GDP and to reach the 3% target requires an annual increase of 8%."

Noel DEMPSEY, Minister for Education and Science, Ireland cautioned that "the goal of the Lisbon Agenda for Europe to become the 'most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world' is fast becoming a catch phrase for leaders, both political and academic. It appears in almost every speech and, maybe, has lost some of its impact." Citing his own country as an example of how the challenges can be met, the Minister pointed out that in the late 1990s Ireland made a strategic decision to invest in research and development.

The Minister continued "between 1999 and 2003, we have seen a 25-fold increase in dedicated Research and Development funding. This action is complemented by a second Government decision - the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. Science Foundation Ireland has identified the leading researchers, and put an infrastructure in place to attract them to Ireland. It has scored successes, and the hallmark of its operation has been to market Ireland as being science-friendly. A key element is to provide the infrastructure and supports with the minimum of bureaucracy. Science Foundation Ireland did not invent this idea - it is based on the United States' model of the National Science Foundation."

European Commission President Romano PRODI highlighted three concepts for meeting the challenges of a more competitive EU, "the mobility of researchers within the European Research Area, exchanges with the world of production and the setting up of centres of excellence."

Mauri PEKKARINEN, Minister of Trade and Industry, Finland was questioned by many MEPs and delegates on how Finland had managed to meet and surpass the Barcelona target. The Minister commented "the high R&D intensity mainly derives from the evolution of the structure of industries, but many strategic political choices have carried new building blocks to the foundations of the innovation system. The most important policy measures have been a determined investment in education and research, establishing regional universities and the two funding agencies, Tekes and Academy of Finland, as well as creation of the Science and Technology Policy Council."

The Polish Minister for Science, Professor M. KLEIBER, stated that in the medium to long-term the accession countries could give the EU's research policy a needed boost given their relatively well qualified and cost-effective labour supply as well as their potential market growth.

In his concluding remarks to the Congress, Rolf LINKOHR (PES, D) summed up some of the sentiments expressed during the two-day congress: the 3% target was an important benchmark for the EU. The establishment of a European Research Council focussing on basic research was essential. More attention should be paid to SMEs given their large contribution to the EU's economy, especially in the light of the far greater US support to SMEs. Lastly, investing heavily in R&D was about securing a positive and optimistic outlook, and the EU was beginning, he said, to move in the right direction.

For more information on the conference see here: http://www.europarl.eu.int/conferences/2 004_science/default_en.htm

6-7.4.2004 European Science Congress

       Press enquiries:Richard Freedman - tel. (32-2) 28 41448e-mail: indu-press@europarl.eu.int

European Parliament News Report 2004-04-07

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