Brussels, 11 Sep 2003
Policy makers at European and national level are showing their commitment to the Barcelona objective with a series of initiatives designed to increase investment in research to three per cent of GDP.
The seriousness with which the objective is being viewed was highlighted at a meeting organised by the Slovenian Business and Research Association (SBRA) in Brussels on 10 September. Philippe de Taxis du Poët from the Commission's Research DG listed a series of actions demonstrating the Commission's dedication to increasing investment, while representatives from Slovenia demonstrated how their country is tackling the ambitious target.
The Barcelona target, agreed by the EU's Heads of State and Government in March 2002, commits the EU to increasing research investment to three per cent of GDP by 2010. Two thirds of these funds should come from the private sector, and the remainder from the public sector. Investment in research currently varies across the EU from over three per cent in Sweden and Finland to 0.68 per cent in Greece (according to the Commission's Key Figures 2002).
At European level, the Commission is working on a directive on entry and residence permits for third country researchers, which is expected to be put forward in November. Further developments on the exemption of block State aid for small and medium sized enterprises are expected in early 2004, and the 'open method of coordination' is currently being promoted through the establishment of new thematic working groups and CREST (the scientific research and technology committee). The Commission is also developing a 'new generation of technology platforms', added Mr de Taxis du Poët, which are building on the best practice of existing platforms such as those in the fields of aeronautics and rail research. A new hydrogen platform was announced on 10 September, and is to be followed by others, on subjects including genomics, steel and textiles technology, and marine research.
The Commission is also working in cooperation with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to find new financing instruments for supporting research and innovation. A proposal is to be put to the ECOFIN Council in October.
The fact that the Commission President, Romano Prodi, outlined higher research investment in his growth initiative, presented in July, also demonstrates the importance of the issue for policy makers.
Increasing research investment to three per cent of GDP by 2010 is not realistic for all Member States, but Mr de Taxis du Poët said that the target should be seen as a catalyst, and that 'the three per cent is not as important as the virtual circle, the dynamic and the contacts that we can set up in Europe' through seeking to increase spending.
'The goal is to make Europe more attractive for investment in research,' added Mr de Taxis du Poët. He claimed that industry recognises the importance of investing in research, but does not find the framework conditions for investment satisfactory in Europe. This is one of the reasons why the Commission has taken such a comprehensive approach in its action plan for achieving the three per cent objective, outlining measures that go beyond those normally within the domain of research policy, such as fiscal, competition and regional policies.
Signalling their commitment to the target, each Member State and acceding country has set its own investment goal. While some Member States are aiming for a target lower than three per cent of GDP, Slovenia has set itself an ambitious goal, being the only acceding country to have committed to reaching that figure.
'Meeting the Barcelona target means an increase in investment by 320 per cent in seven years by the private sector, or 25 per cent growth annually,' explained Boris Cizelj, Director of the SBRA. 'I believe it's possible, but it will take lots of effort on the corporate side, as well as the correct framework conditions.'
Slovenia, along with every other country in transition during the last decade, lost a considerable amount of human capital. Those working in research fell by 4.2 per cent between 1994 and 1998.
The situation is now improving, and initiatives such as the Young Researchers Programme have been very successful. Of 2,652 young researchers who were provided with government funding, 612 now work in the corporate sector.
Other areas for action have also been identified by the Slovenians. Research investment by individual companies is still 'modest', said Dr Cizelj, and the transfer of knowledge from academia to industry is still 'inadequate'. Low attendance at a recent conference on 'Slovenia, Lisbon and Barcelona' also indicated that many in the corporate sector are unaware of the challenges ahead, said Dr Cizelj.
The Slovenian government is however fully aware of the challenges, and has made a clear political commitment to increasing investment. Peter Volasko from the Slovenian Mission to the EU explained that this was possible because of the persistence of former Minister for Education, Science and Sport, Lucija Cok.
The government currently channels 0.72 per cent of its GDP into research, a figure set to rise to 0.84 in 2004 according to the government's budgetary plans. 'One per cent by 2010 seems realistic and should be reached,' said Mr Volasko.
The government also plans to involve industry more in research policy making, with the aim of making Slovenia more attractive for investment. And salary bonus schemes have already been implemented to encourage PhD and Masters students to work in the private sector after graduation.
But the Slovenians agreed with Mr de Taxis du Poët on the ultimate objective of current initiatives. 'Three per cent is not the final goal, and we therefore need an integrated systematic approach to look beyond this goal to Lisbon, to increasing growth and to improving quality of life in the EU,' said Mr Volasko.