Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Science commissioner wants to unleash inventors' creativity

  • The commission's proposed €100bn package for research and innovation in the next seven-year budget (Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory)

This time, EU leaders seem to be serious about innovation - and so the European Commission wants to be bold.



Following repeated calls by France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel for more 'disruptive innovation' in Europe, the EU executive has announced its plan to create a European Innovation Council (EIC).

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  • 'You see very assertive signs from leaders that they think this is really the priority of Europe,' said commissioner Carlos Moedas (Photo: European Commission)

The new body, endowed with a €10bn budget, will act as an "accelerator of innovation".

"The question is how we can have that type of innovation that creates jobs and markets. That is a very different type of innovation than the innovation that is just increasing efficiency and is basically replacing a product by another," said EU commissioner for research, science and innovation Carlos Moedas.



Moedas, who spoke to a group of journalists ahead of his presentation, insisted that the ideas was to "give freedom to researchers, not to tell them what to do."

The EIC is part of a €100bn package for research and innovation proposed by the commission within the 2021-2027 EU budget.

After the Lisbon Strategy, in 2000, and the Horizon 2020 programme, which failed to make the EU the most innovative economy in the world, Moedas hopes that the new package, called Horizon Europe, will reach the long-sought goal.

"We realised that the way we are investing in innovation was not ideal," the commissioner said about the previous plans.

"We learned that we cannot invest in innovation by telling people to innovate in a certain area," he explained, adding that sending "a very nice file" was not enough anymore to get EU money for projects.

Like the US moonshots

He said that EU services now "interview people, instead of just checking a list," in order to better spot people who "have fantastic idea but have a weak 'file'" - because they don't have enough advice or experience of application procedures;

"You cannot be a bureaucratic institution," he said.

That's why, Moedas said, that the new innovation agency will not be a replica of Darpa, the US defence research agency that paved the way for internet.

While objectives are the same, he said, the EU wants to favour a "more bottom up approach". 

"Darpa is an instrument where you decide immediately what you're going to do, the EIC is more than that," he explained, adding that most 'calls for interest' will be open, with people coming up with their own ideas.

"You cannot replicate things just as a 'copy-paste'," Moedas insisted. "You have to adapt to a totally different system."

In addition to the EIC, the commissioner wants to grab people's attentions with "a couple of good missions that Europeans relate too, as the moonshot in the US was in the 1960s."

Between €5bn and €10bn will be put into 'missions' in the fields of health, "inclusive and secure society", digital, climate, energy and mobility, food and natural resources, within a larger €52bn plan to help research to tackle global challenges and improve Europe's competitiveness.

"Let's decide we'll have no more people dying from cancer - and then we see how much money we have to contribute to that mission," Moedas said, as an example.

'Really the priority'?

With the EU trying to lastingly exit the crisis and stay in the global race, the commission has put research, alongside a €9.2bn digital programme, as one of its priority for the 2021-2027 budget.

But with member states focusing on migration and border controls and trying to preserve cohesion and agriculture policies, the research could be a victim of tight negotiations ahead.

"That would be a pity," Moedas said, noting that the EU already face a €100bn gap with the US in terms of investment.

But he insisted that the commission had the support of the European Parliament and expected the full political backing of member states.

"You see very assertive signs from leaders that they think this is really the priority of Europe," he said.

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