The EU is taking steps towards radically improving its innovation policy as part of a drive to make up ground on its huge investment lag in research and innovation. At the heart of the European Commission’s proposals is the newly created Innovation Council, which will serve as a contact point for pioneering new technologies and provide support for cutting-edge innovations.
The EU executive will formally present its plans for the Council at an informal meeting of European heads of state on May 16 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
The EU remains strong in sectors that include aerospace, pharmaceuticals, electronics, renewable energy, bio-based industries, and advanced mechanical engineering. European companies, however, spend much less money on innovation than most other parts of the developed world.
Europe spends only 1.3 % of its GDP on research and development, whereas China spends slightly more – 1.6 %. The US invests 2% of its GDP on R&D, which is topped by Japan at 2.6%, and South Korea’s whopping 3.2%.
Venture capital in Europe is also insufficient compared to the EU’s market size with only €6.5 billion present in the European Union in 2016 compared to €39.4 billion in the US over the same timeframe. European governments’ investments in research and development also lag far behind the 3% target that Europe set for itself years ago.
The Innovation Council is not the only new instrument with which Brussels wants to employ as a tool to boost its position amongst the world’s leading developers as separate research and innovation missions are also expected to focus on projects that include cancer control, clean transport, and plastic-free oceans.
According to the Commission, “the missions will encourage investments and participation across several sectors and scientific disciplines,” in the hope that they also create close working relationships with research and innovation strategies at the Member State, regional, and local level.
European regulations must also be adapted so that they do not stand in the way of future innovation, according to the EU’s Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, who told reporters that projects that stand outside of formal rules will no longer be required to freeze their activities.
The point was hammered home when the case of a Dutch researcher with an energy project in agriculture was brought up by Moedas when speaking to reporters. The researcher was forced to shuttle back and forth between energy and agricultural managers because the project fell outside official regulations. “These types of situations can no longer occur,” said Moedas.
Reiterating that statement was Commission VP Jyrki Katainen who said Europe has “world-class research? and a solid industrial base, but “we have to work harder – much harder – to turn that excellence into success”, especially in areas focusing on new megatrends such as artificial intelligence and the circular economy, sectors that the Commission will now focus much of its efforts.