Innovation EU-style goes to Washington, DC.

by Paul Hobcraft

Innovation EU-style goes to Washington, DC.The European Commissioner for Research, innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, outlined in her speech at the European Institute, in Washington, DC on 18th January 2012, the EU policies and funding for research and innovation. Some significant points from this speech were:

The EU and the Innovation Union

In October 2010, she initiated the Innovation Union that is placing research and innovation at the heart of the EU’s policies to boost growth and jobs. The European Union has three aims

  1. Transform Europe’s world class science base into a world-beating one
  2. Make coherent use of public sector intervention to stimulate the private sector
  3. Remove the remaining bottlenecks to the commercialisation of good ideas.

The international dimension of collaboration is embedded throughout this and she gave the necessary emphasis on areas where the European Union and the United States have a very close relationship in research and in order to give a push in the direction of common approaches and common standards between the two.

She gave the example of where the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (the JRC), is playing a very active role through its Institute for Energy and Transport, working with the US Departments of Energy and Commerce and American standardisation bodies such as the American National Standards Institute, and by carrying out research to support standardisation and policy-making.

She saw it as vital to work jointly on issues such as electric cars and smart grids if we are to fully capitalise on the commercial and societal opportunities offered by these new technologies.

European Commission’s proposal for Horizon 2020

The trip to Washington was to discuss the future and she presented the outlines of the European Commission’s proposal for Horizon 2020 that was adopted last November.

She reflected we in the EU have now had seven Framework programs for research. But after extensive consultation with stakeholders both in Europe and internationally, it was clear that we needed a new approach that is in tune with Europe’s current and future research needs, focused on tackling a range of challenges faced by society, and designed to deliver the research and innovation we need to boost growth and jobs.

Equally she acknowledged it is true that we need fiscal consolidation, but this must be smart fiscal consolidation. We must focus now on the measures that will produce jobs, growth and competitiveness today and tomorrow. Cutting spending in areas such as education, research and development and innovation would be exactly the wrong thing to do.

Horizon 2020 is our response. It is designed to help deliver jobs, prosperity and a better quality of life. Horizon 2020 should therefore be seen as an economic policy measure.

With a proposed budget of 80 billion Euro (around $ 1021 billion) at constant 2011 prices, it represents a serious and much-needed investment in growth and jobs across Europe. Prioritising investment in research and innovation now is the recipe for ensuring growth and jobs in the future and expected result coming from this latest initiative.

Horizon 2020 is structured around three objectives or pillars.

The First Pillar is to raise the level of excellence in Europe’s science base and ensure a steady stream of world-class research to secure our long-term competitiveness.

The Second Pillar on ‘Industrial Leadership’ aims to make Europe a more attractive location to invest in research and innovation, by promoting activities where businesses set the agenda.

Under the Third Pillar on ‘Societal Challenges’, this pillar is reflecting the shift in priorities of the Europe 2020 strategy and address people’s major concerns. A challenge-based approach will bring together resources and knowledge across different fields, technologies and disciplines

Streamlining and sharper focus is needed here.

Firstly, the funding rules will be much simpler. We are moving from several different funding rates for different beneficiaries and different activities to just two. And we want successful applicants to get to work more quickly: Horizon 2020 aims to reduce the average time to grant by 100 days.

Secondly – and this a real ‘innovation’ in itself – Horizon 2020 will provide support for the market take-up of innovation, including by the public sector, through more proof-of-concept, piloting, and demonstration of good ideas; by exploiting the potential of research infrastructures; through the setting of technical standards; through pre-commercial procurement and, through strengthened loan and equity financing.

Thirdly, although Horizon 2020 marks a clear break with the past, we have been careful to keep and further improve the best parts of the current program. For example, the European Research Council (the ERC) is a widely acknowledged success story. It supports world class blue-sky research, fertilising the ideas for tomorrow’s innovation.

Equally, a number of new measures will encourage the participation of SMEs. In fact, a special strand to boost Innovation in SMEs has been inspired by the US’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program

The Next Steps

Our proposal for Horizon 2020 will now be put forward for discussion with the 27 Member States of the EU and with the European Parliament.

The message for Washington- Horizon 2020 will offer European and American scientists, researchers and innovators many opportunities to work together, to make the discoveries and breakthroughs that will improve our economies and our day to day lives

International cooperation is a vital part of this research and innovation funding. It makes sense to bring the world’s best research and the world’s best researchers together, where possible, in order to tackle the common challenges that we face such as sustainable mobility, climate change, energy and food security or our ageing population.

The message was these and other challenges and opportunities that are so great we must think globally and act globally.

Time will tell. Getting these overarching policies right and implemented is critical for this promise of growth and jobs.  Let us all hope the message goes beyond Brussels and Washington.

image credit: suschem.com

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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