Science without borders is now a daily reality for researchers in Europe, with EU funding for collaborative research no longer seen as just another funding stream but as means to share expertise and undertake projects that are not possible at a national level.
“This is good for them, good for their own laboratories, its good for their countries, it’s good for Europe,” Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate General for Research and Innovation told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washigton DC.
However, said Smits, the European Commission’s support for research is much broader than funding European scientists, working in Europe, on European issues. The EU research budget already supports the largest programme to promote international cooperation in R&D in the world. A key objective of the Innovation Union Policy, agreed earlier this month, is to further promote international collaboration, both with developing countries and with leading economies, including the US. This will involve increased twinning of projects, both by opening EU programmes to US participation and by joint calls for proposals. For example, while the EU already has a strong relationship with the US National Institutes of Health, Smits said he intended to explore how this could be expanded during his visit to Washington.
In addition, there will be further work under the Innovation Union to increase collaboration in research policy, looking at mutual measures to support innovation and entrepreneurship. “Leaders of all advanced nations agree: research and innovation are essential to our prosperity,” Smits said.
What sort of growth do we want?
Smits underlined that the EU2020 growth strategy puts research and innovation centre stage as the engine of economic growth. To do deliver on this, the Innovation Union is stepping back to take a panoramic view of innovation, that encompasses not just R&D, but also innovation in business models, design, marketing and services, and also includes social innovation.
Concrete measures agreed to support this will include the creation of a Europe-wide venture capital scheme, using public procurement to promote the development of new products and processes, and creating transnational collaborations and partnerships to deal with problems such as ageing and climate change.
“It is not just about changing the innovation landscape in Europe, It is also about building new partnerships,” Smits said.