EU summit called a ‘good start’ for reform in innovation policy – but more needed

06 Feb 2011 | Viewpoint

A group of innovation leaders called the outcome of a European Council discussion yesterday on innovation policy a good start – but urged continued pressure for reform.

‘The EU summit was the first in years to throw a spotlight on the need for change in the environment for innovation in Europe – and it was a good start,” according to a statement from the Science|Business Innovation Board.

“We welcome the Council’s call for a strategic and integrated approach to boosting innovation, with particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Its commitment to improve the mobility and career prospects of researchers and complete the European Research Area by 2014 is vital.

“Equally important is the Council’s pledge to improve the framework conditions for innovation, such as simplifying standardization procedures and gearing public procurement to drive greater demand for innovative new goods and services.

“Finally we applaud the Council’s call to step up the pace to create a Digital Single Market by 2015, and its request for proposals by the end of 2011 to lift remaining legal and administrative obstacles to cross-border venture capital investments.

“But the Council’s conclusions must be followed up with action in Brussels and the national capitals.”

“New ideas, products, services and business models will be critical to bring Europe out of economic malaise.” Achieving that, the Board said, “requires a consistent, coordinated effort.  That has been lacking in Europe.”

The Board is a Brussels think tank formed to promote an improvement in the environment for innovation in Europe. Its members include Sir Keith O’Nions, Rector of Imperial College London; J. Frank Brown, Dean of INSEAD; Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International; and David Eyton, Group Head of Research and Technology at BP.

In previous statements, the Board has said that a range of problems hamper Europe’s competitiveness in technology and innovation, and recommended six actions:

  1. Stimulate private investment in R&D and education. 
  2. Free innovators to act – freeing universities to set entrance requirements or seek private funding, or reforming tax, labour and market regulation that impedes investment in innovation.
  3. Stimulate public-sector demand for innovation. National health systems should be cutting-edge buyers of new technologies, to raise efficiency.  Public authorities should lead the way in standards and procurement of low-carbon technologies, a potential €500 billion opportunity for European industry in the next 40 years.
  4. Get the European act together. Despite recent attempts at reform, patent costs in Europe are still too high. Immigration rules hinder the free movement of talented researchers. There is no consistent rationale for which kinds of R&D the EU should support and which the Member-States should handle.
  5. Target public support where it can make a difference. Public R&D programmes today are so broadly written that they risk distorting the market. It should back winners, not pick them.
  6. Support excellence. Public research funding, national or EU, must be allocated in open, competitive reviews by international experts. To attract international investment, Europe must be a constellation of excellent research stars, not a diffuse cloud of dull mediocrity.

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