Approval is expected in December, however research ministers want to widen the agenda’s focus beyond deep tech, to embrace innovation in all its forms
EU research ministers are set to endorse the EU’s plan to boost innovation capacity following publication of their draft conclusions on the New European Innovation Agenda, which was put forward by the European Commission in July.
However, there are differences of opinion about the route to transforming the EU into an innovation powerhouse, with research ministers calling for a bigger role for different forms of innovation, rather than the current focus of the agenda on deep tech, which relies on major scientific and engineering advances.
“The emphasis that the member states wanted to give with these conclusions was that it’s not only about deep tech innovation but about all types of innovation,” an EU diplomat told Science|Business. “If you compare the changes, [the draft] is emphasising social, cultural and other types of innovation.”
Governments also want to make sure the Commission doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with new initiatives and bodies, but instead shapes the Innovation Agenda around existing organisations, including universities, research organisations and business incubators.
The upcoming paper is in line with the research community’s view. “The boarder focus is something that we strongly welcome. It moves what was a proposal for a deep tech innovation agenda to a broader agenda,” said Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. “It recognises the importance of research, including fundamental research, and the importance of all players.”
The Innovation Agenda is the Commission’s attempt to help Europe catch up with the US and China in the race for technology domination. Europe invests much less private capital in innovation than its competitors and struggles to grow its start-ups into mature companies. The agenda is also seen as a prompt to European industry to develop home grown technologies to address challenges such as the transition to a green economy.
The five-step agenda, which is being championed by EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel, aims to help companies scale up; enable experimentation and public procurement; strengthen innovation ecosystems; foster talent; and improve policymaking tools.
The conclusions reached by research ministers signal member states’ approval for the plan, giving the Commission leverage. For the ministers, it is a chance to have their say on how innovation should be fostered in Europe.
There is no direct funding for the Innovation Agenda but researchers are happy it has started a discussion on how to better support innovation, at a time when Brussels heads for a big review of its research programmes and is drafting plans for the next few years.
For universities, the discussion is a chance to highlight the importance of investing in fundamental research that underpins innovation, a role the conclusion of the member states acknowledges. “It’s really in line with the logic of the university strategy,” said Palmowski. “We need to use the text as a basis for further conversation and ideas.”
With the endorsement, research ministers will also encourage member states to step up their own efforts. With the EU budget fixed for the next five years, money-wise there’s little room for manoeuvre, but some believe the Commission’s communication has already generated buzz for a renewed push to help Europe’s start-ups and innovators succeed. “I think the momentum is there. The communication opened the debate,” an EU diplomat said.