23rd Sep 2021

Europeans: one step behind in research

Europeans are still failing to show world leadership in technology and research, a new report shows.

The paper, published on Thursday (10 February) has evaluated the EU research and development programmes and their impact on Europe's knowledge-base and potential for innovation.

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While it argues that EU funds for the programmes make a "major contribution", it suggests that more resources, industry participation and simplified administration are needed for them to have a greater effect in future.

"We have somehow lost momentum", said Erkki Ormala, chair of the panel issuing the report.

"The EU is falling behind. And we are now under pressue not only compared to our traditional rivals like the US or Japan, but also China, India or Brazil. We are facing a much tougher competition in talent and knowledge than we are used to".

Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik considers the paper's results as a reason for doubling the funds in his portfolio within the next budgetary period of 2007-2013.

"We don't want to achieve our economic growth by lowering the social or environmental standards. So to compete globally, we need to focus on knowledge", Mr Potocnik said to journalists, adding that the EU programmes should "make a bridge between practical innovation and research".

The report has listed several possible solutions for tackling outlined setbacks.

It argues that the EU must attract and reward the best talent, mobilise resources for innovation and boost cooperation between governments, businesses and universities in research.

It supports the idea of setting up a European Research Council to promote excellence and encourages more industry involvement, mainly on the part of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Too much fuss about the biggest companies

However, SME representatives complain that their ideas about EU research and innovation funding are not taken into consideration.

"It's not about how big the budget is for SMEs and their involvement in such projects. It is rather about the allocation of the funds. Most of them are granted for huge long-term projects which cost millions of euro and they can hardly attract smaller companies", according to Ullrich Schroeder, from UEAPME, the main umbrella organisation.

He argues that while several reports have already pointed out that SMEs must be more involved if the "Lisbon agenda" goal of 3 percent of GDP to be invested in research and development in the EU by 2010 is to be achieved, in reality they are not as well supported as huge transnational companies.

"It is not that the EU member states invest much less in universities than the US, but the greatest difference is that European SMEs are only investing 8% of the US amount, and it is simply not enough".

Mr Schroeder also said that while "there is a lot of rhetoric from politicians, that the SMEs should get involved, innovate and compete, when they come up with good projects, they are not sufficiently supported".

"The European Commission is more concerned about big companies and hightech areas, while innovation is needed also in more down-to earth sectors", Mr Schroeder told the EUobserver.

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