21st Jan 2018

EU pledges to create 'fifth freedom' of knowledge

As part of the EU's ongoing quest to make itself more competitive, the bloc's leaders have suggested creating a "fifth freedom" of knowledge to be added to the four original principles of free movement of persons, capital, services and goods in the European Union.

"Member states and the EU must remove barriers to the free movement of knowledge by creating a 'fifth freedom'", the heads of states and governments concluded on Friday (14 March) in a statement following their traditional spring summit.

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  • Free movement of knowledge is to be the EU's "fifth freedom" (Photo: European Commission)

As part of the initiative, the bloc has pledged to boost cross-border mobility of researchers, students, scientists and university teachers, as well as labour markets and work conditions for European researchers and further reforms in high education.

The EU is already providing funding and possibilities for student exchange programmes but some countries falling behind on investment in education, research and development.

According to the latest figures, the EU invested 1.84 percent of GDP in research in 2006 - the same as in 2004 and 2005 - despite having an overall 3 percent target of GDP to meet by 2010.

The statistics show a varied picture across Europe – Sweden (3.82%) and Finland (3.45%) have already reached the goal, and they are followed by Germany, Austria and Denmark with 2 percent R&D expenditure.

Western European countries also register the highest number of scientists and engineers within their domestic labour force, with Belgium (7.9%) at the top of the table, followed by Ireland (6.8%) and Finland (6.7%). For Europe, the figure stood at 4.8 percent in 2006.

At the other end of the scale, some new member states in central and eastern Europe are seriously lagging behind in boosting knowledge-based economies, with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania investing the least in R&D, below 0.5 percent.

While EU leaders re-confirmed they want to boost efforts in achieving the long established knowledge and innovation goals, economy ministers also pointed out in their working sessions that several countries need better infrastructure in the sector before they can pour in the required investments.

"Just by providing more money does not necessarily mean research and its practical results for national economies will be improved," said Jan Pociatek, the finance minister of Slovakia, a country also featuring poorly in terms of R&D investment.

"We see it as a key problem of several countries," he noted, adding that the European Commission has been asked to prepare an analysis on the issue.

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