President Dassis points to European cooperation in R&I as a road to success for Europe
Today the European Economic and Social Committee's plenary assembly welcomed Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for research, science and innovation, for a debate on Horizon 2020, the EU's most ambitious programme for research and innovation ever, intended to provide approximately 80 billion euros-worth in funding to European R&I projects over the 2014-2020 period.
The Commission is about to evaluate its success halfway through completion and the EESC is contributing in good time to this assessment with an opinion drawn up at the request of the Slovak presidency under the expert leadership of rapporteur Ulrich Samm (Employers' Group – DE), director for plasma physics at the Forschungszentrum Jülich Institute for Energy and Climate Research in Germany.
In his opening remarks EESC President Georges Dassis observed that R&I is the poor relative in the EU's budget, with 2 % for the very ambitious projects European leaders wish to carry out, while the US invests over 2,7% of its GDP in R&I. While acknowledging the Commission's efforts to strengthen cooperation between Member States in research, he stressed that a lot still needs to be done and pointed to Airbus as a model of successful European cooperation to extend to other fields. "Thirty years ago the European aeronautical industry was no heavy weight. As soon as a European consortium was created, fantastic results followed and now Airbus is a leader on the aeronautical market. Why not conceive a similar cooperation in other fields, such as the automobile industry for instance, and in general, why not invest more in R&I? This is the only way to avoid a brain drain in the EU and not indirectly force our young scientists to expatriate - to the US, as they are doing today, but tomorrow it could be India, China or elsewhere."
Commissioner Moedas agreed with President Dassis. "President Juncker's top priority is jobs and growth and today, if you think about jobs and growth, you think about innovation in science. There is no way that Europe can get better and create more jobs without innovation in science. That is the only way that you can create better products that companies can sell for better prices and create better-paid jobs."
In presenting his opinion prof. Samm focused on a few key issues, particularly:
- the need to find the right evaluation criteria so as to give the right weight to all the links in the innovation chain, from basic research to new products
- the need to increase funding for collaborative research across borders, which brings high European added value but has suffered cuts under Horizon 2020
the huge disparities in R&I funding between Member States and the consequence differences in success rates in obtaining funds received from the EU.
However, "one cannot blame the EU for all difficulties. The large disparities are clearly linked to the very different national funding for research and innovation. The national R&I funding must be strengthened and we remind the Member States that EU R&I funding cannot and should not replace national efforts", said prof. Samm.
Moedas paid tribute to the work of prof Samm and his team and pointed out that the timing of the opinion is particularly important to contribute to the Commission's mid-term evaluation. He also invited prof. Samm to take part in a large stakeholder conference planned for 30 June 2017.
Commissioner Moedas thanked the EESC for supporting his project of creating a European Innovation Council to reflect the European Research Council’s success as a funder of excellent basic science. Mr Moedas believes the Council will be essential for Europe to better fund innovation through collaborative and interdisciplinary research and the EESC is offering to contribute to the discussion on how to shape this mechanism to ensure its helps complete the final steps in the innovation gap.
The EESC's active involvement in the mid-term evaluation will continue with the drawing up of an information report at the request of the European Parliament involving a set of fact finding missions to Member States to find out what is working and what needs to be changed in Horizon 2020 from civil society perspective. EESC Vice-president Gonçalo Lobo Xavier will be the rapporteur for this information report, which is expected to be completed by January 2017.