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Antonio Tajani: My outlook for EU research

Newly-elected EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani tells Science|Business where and how the EU should be spending its research cash in the coming years

MEP Antonio Tajani
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My starting point is simple: there is no competitiveness - and hence no durable outlook for growth and jobs - without innovation.

A clear example of that was provided by the recent economic crisis, which only companies or small business that kept on investing in R&D managed to sail through safely.

When I say innovation, I am not only thinking of technological innovation. On the contrary, Europe should embrace a broader concept of innovation, of which social, business, design and service innovations are all part.

In a similar manner, we must look at innovation not as an isolated process but as value chain running from bold ideas to the marketplace.

What role then for the EU? The simple answer is that we must assess where European support is most needed and where it has the most added-value.

Europe has very good track record in research and development. But we are not always equally successful in commercialising our research results.

This is why, during my mandate as Commissioner for Industry and SMEs, the merger of EU research and innovation support into one single programme, Horizon 2020, was one of my priorities.

Within Horizon 2020 I also pushed through the creation of a dedicated SME Instrument, tailored to the needs of small and very small companies.

Today, Horizon 2020 is one of the largest international research and innovation programmes in the world. Its success and importance for innovation in Europe is undeniable.

At the same time, innovation is by essence a field where one cannot rest on past laurels, but must learn from experience and continuously seek improvements.

In view of the forthcoming review of Horizon 2020 and of the EU budget, I see three main challenges on which to act:

First off, Horizon 2020 should be focused on fewer priorities, with more impact. Low carbon technologies, climate and the circular economy, as well as new digital and data technologies should in my view be prioritised even more strongly than today.

Secondly, the European regional funds as well as the European Fund for Strategic Investment – better known as the Juncker Plan – must be geared up to support research and innovation and Horizon 2020 more effectively.

EU policies and programmes are like pieces of a puzzle that should be seamlessly fitted together. This is not always the case today. Every euro counts and we must therefore fine-tune the design of our instruments to maximise the support to research and innovation.

Last but not least, my conviction is that when acting in common we can be bolder and more ambitious. To me, part of the EU’s value-added lies precisely in large-scale innovation projects where member states on their own are too small or not up to the task.

Both as Commissioner for transport and, separately, for industry, I stood behind two of Europe’s flagship space projects, Galileo and Copernicus, in very difficult times. Many member states voiced doubts when it came to securing their budgets for the period 2013-2020.

Eventually, thanks notably to strong support in the European Parliament, we managed to finance their infrastructure deployment.

Copernicus has now been operational for a couple of years and Galileo launched its initial services last December.

Had it not been for the EU, Europe would not have had a navigation system today, independent from America’s GPS.

I am also convinced that these two programmes will deliver a whole new ecosystem for research and innovation to the benefit of European industry and consumers.

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Related subjects: European Parliament, Horizon 2020, Elections