EU Innovation: Working Towards A Common Research Area By 2014

EU should support all stages of innovation and bring in SMEs and other participants in boosting commercialisation of EU innovation, according to European Commissioner for Research & Innovation.

When the EU’s Heads of State and Government discussed innovation at their meeting on 4 February 2011, they called upon the Commission to bring together all EU research and innovation funding under a Common Strategic Framework to make it both more effective and impactful and easier to access for participants. Following an open competition, the public voted to name the new Programme “Horizon 2020”.

I am very pleased to be able to announce that one of the two winners of the competition is from Poland. I wish to congratulate Mrs Beata Zygnier who won a trip to the European Innovation Convention that will be held in Brussels at the end of the year.

More than 1300 responses to the online questionnaire on the Green Paper on Horizon 2020 were received. In addition, stakeholders sent in more than 750 consolidated position papers. This was an unprecedented consultation in terms of the strong engagement from the various stakeholders.

Overall, there is strong support for the concept of the Common Strategic Framework and its objectives of bringing research and innovation closer together and providing support across the full innovation cycle.

Simplification is a key priority for all stakeholders and there are recurring calls to make funding opportunities less prescriptive and more open. Respondents also stressed the need to become more flexible in project implementation and to make better use of bottom-up instruments, also in areas of the programme which are driven by clear policy objectives.

In terms of generating more innovation, the main message is that the EU should support all stages in the innovation chain, with a clear wish to strengthen support for activities closer to the market, e.g. demonstration, piloting or market replication.

At the same time, respondents were very clear on the need to maintain the best of what we have already. This concerns in particular: collaborative research, the European Research Council and the Marie Curie actions. Also, the Risk Sharing Finance Facility and the SME support actions of the Competitiveness and Innovation (CIP) programme are frequently mentioned as success stories.

This is why I consider that Horizon 2020 should be structured around three distinct, but mutually reinforcing blocks, in line with Europe 2020 priorities.

The first block, ‘Excellence in the science base’, will strengthen the EU’s world-class excellence in science, through actions supporting frontier research (European Research Council), future and emerging technologies (FET), Marie Curie actions and priority research infrastructures.

The second block, ‘Tackling societal challenges’, will respond directly to challenges identified in Europe 2020. It will support activities across the entire spectrum from research to market. Its focus will be on the challenges of: health, demographic change and well-being; food security and the bio-based economy; secure, clean and efficient energy; smart, green and integrated transport; supply of raw materials; resource efficiency and climate action; and inclusive, innovative and secure societies. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) will contribute to addressing these challenges through its Knowledge and Innovation Communities.

The third block, ‘Creating industrial leadership and competitive frameworks’, will support business research and innovation. Actions will cover: increasing investment in enabling and industrial technologies, facilitating access to risk finance, and providing EU wide support for innovation in SMEs with a high growth potential.

Implementation will be simplified and standardised, with simplification covering both funding schemes and rules. Key aspects will include: a rationalised set of funding schemes, a single set of rules, shorter time-to-grant periods, and significant outsourcing of operational activities.

Horizon 2020 will come into effect in the next EU Budget period which will start in 2014. The Commission adopted its proposals for the next EU Budget – including for research and innovation – on 29 June.

Within the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) proposal, the Commission is proposing a 46% increase in the budget for research and innovation compared with provisions made under the current MFF.

With this proposal, the Commission is clearly showing its strong commitment to delivering on the ambitions of Europe 2020 and the Innovation Union.

The aim of Horizon 2020 is to make EU research and innovation funding both more efficient and more effective for participants.

Horizon 2020 will reach out to a broader range of participants across all Member States, including small and medium enterprises. I look forward to our discussions this afternoon in the dedicated session on SMEs.

Based on these key principles, the Commission will now continue to develop its proposals, which will be presented by the end of this year.

The new programme must also be in harmony with other EU policies and programmes, and in particular we will ensure that synergies with EU Cohesion Policy and the Structural Funds are fully exploited.

This leads me naturally to the important question of participation rates in our funding programme. We began to discuss ways to widen participation when we last met informally, in Gödöllö under the Hungarian Presidency. My services in DG Research and Innovation have also been busy establishing the facts and figures, and beginning to identify the factors at play.

We fully understand the concern of Member States in ensuring that the EU programmes make the best use of all potential research and innovation resources, and that we get the best possible outcomes. These values are at the heart of the ERA principles.

But, of course it is natural and even expected that national participation rates will differ. This is a primary indicator that demonstrates that we are funding excellence, and we will not undermine this principle in Horizon 2020. And while it is obvious that excellence can be found in all Member States, it is also obvious that excellence cannot be equally distributed at any one time.

Analysing participation rates is not a simple matter. Do we consider EU financial contributions, or numbers of organisations involved? Do we compare at national or regional level? And what do we understand by a “high” or a “low” rate of participation?

What is clear is that success rates in FP7 vary considerably across all Member States, both in terms of participation success rate and EC contribution. But there is also a strong correlation to the relative size of the R&D workforce and R&D investment of a country compared to overall EU27 totals. In short, the higher the overall contribution to EU27 R&D spending, the higher the returns from the Framework programme.

So this is not a straightforward EU15 versus EU12 issue and explains why the performance of some “older” Member States is disappointing, while some newer Members come out on top of the whole EU on certain measures.

Nonetheless, if we are looking at the EU12 as a whole, it is true that there are certain participation patterns that deserve closer attention: notably the low number of project coordinators from EU12 countries, or the level of EU contribution per participant.

Some of these differences are due to a learning effect. Following the patterns of earlier enlargements of the EU, we can expect over the coming years of FP7 a trend towards higher participation rates for the countries which have recently joined the Framework Programme. Some supporting efforts may encourage this, including those within the annual FP7 work programme. In the package of calls published just yesterday, there are topics that I know will be of major interest to researchers from the EU12. Examples relate to innovative forestry in rural areas and advanced materials.

The research teams now have to come together and push forward their ideas. But here we realise the difficulty that new teams have in breaking into existing networks. There is a big difference between just being involved, and being at the heart of things. And the difficulties can be magnified in the case of large, complex and financially demanding projects. While some of this just takes time to overcome, I am determined to ensure there are no hidden obstacles. I do not accept that the door is shut to excellent potential participants.

National support networks play an important role in helping participants to access networks and learn how to manage small and large collaborative research projects, especially the less experienced applicants. We will be looking at ways to benchmark and improve the quality of the services provided by Framework Programme National Contact Points (NCPs).

There are also measures on which we need to focus over the longer-term, including what might be done through Horizon 2020. I would like to highlight in particular:

* National R&D investments towards the 3% target are vital. Such investment can ensure a solid base of well-trained scientists, with access to well-equipped labs and infrastructure, and with the capacity to respond successfully to calls for proposals at the European level. To use a football metaphor: to succeed in the European Champions League you need a strong national league!
* The development of national research strategies should be encouraged, so that countries are in a better position to both shape and exploit the benefits of the Framework Programme;
* Support should be provided for twinning arrangements between research actors to share knowledge and boost visibility;
* Particular emphasis should be put on encouraging young research teams; and,
* We should also reflect on how to particularly support researchers who have spent time working outside the EU, to return to their home countries in Europe.

Last but not least, we must ensure strong synergies between Horizon 2020 and the Structural Funds.

In order to identify further opportunities for such synergies, the Commission established a Synergies Expert Group that began work in October last year.

Their main recommendations were presented to the recent WIRE 2 conference in Debrecen and have now been published on the Commission’s CORDIS website. The report contains ambitious, but at the same time practical, actions that can be taken to ensure that the highest possible added value is obtained from all sources of funding in support of research and innovation.

Among its conclusions, the report makes a clear differentiation between the objectives and modes of intervention of Horizon 2020 and the cohesion policy funds in order to ensure complementarities and synergies.

In other words, the Structural Funds should be deployed to their full extent with large-scale funding to support capacity-building in the regions through pre-allocated budgetary envelopes.

This should of course include dedicated actions aimed at modernising universities, purchasing scientific equipment, engaging in local technology transfer, supporting start-ups and spin-offs and fostering local interaction between industry and academia.

These actions should be instrumental in developing a pathway to excellence, leading these regions to fully participate in Horizon 2020, which will continue to allocate its funds on the basis of scientific excellence regardless of geographical location. During my recent visits to the three Baltic States, I witnessed how smart investment in scientific equipment and infrastructures has helped attract excellent researchers back into the country.

A key policy innovation that will boost cohesion policy as a driver for excellence is the smart specialisation strategies that were described at our last meeting. Once again, I would like to underline my full support for the development of smart specialisation strategies in the Member States and regions as a key condition for the successful implementation of research and innovation funding under the next round of Structural Funds.

The launch of the promised Smart Specialisation Platform on 23 June 2011 at the Regions for Economic Change conference provides the regions with an important source of support in the development of their smart specialisation strategies.

As I already mentioned, some supportive measures are already underway within the annual FP7 work programme. In the package of calls published just yesterday, we have included a range of topics that will collectively cover areas of particular interest to the newer Member States.

Under Horizon 2020 we will look at networking activities, access to expertise, human resources development, twinning arrangements between research actors, research and innovation clusters development and strong synergies with the Structural Funds.

I hope it is clear that we need to work together on these next steps. Indeed, the Council Conclusions of last May called on the Commission to report back by the end of the year, in consultation with the Member States.

Therefore, the Commission will shortly be inviting your representatives to participate in a high-level workshop, which will be organised on 9 September 2011 by my Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

On that occasion we will present the results of our own analyses. It is vital that the participants at this workshop bring their own observations and insight, and that all these findings are thoroughly reviewed and analysed.

I will report back on the results of this exercise at the formal Council at the end of September. We can then make sure that any relevant measures are duly incorporated in our proposals for Horizon 2020.

By Máire Geoghegan Quinn European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

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