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The 2008 European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) published today shows the EU is making progress in its innovation performance preceding the financial crisis. In parallel to the EIS, the 2008 Science, Technology and Competitiveness report also published today provides for the first time an overview of progress from 2000 to 2006 in both EU R&D investment and in implementing the European Research Area (ERA).

The report concludes that despite substantial progress made, also in the new Member States, increased investment in research by many Member States and an improved efficiency of their research systems, the EU is still far from reaching its Lisbon target of investing 3% of GDP in R&D. A continued low level of business R&D investment, linked to an EU industrial structure with a smaller high tech sector than in the US, hampers the EU’s innovation performance.

Published since 2001 as a benchmark for innovation efficiency and performance in the EU, the 2008 EIS further improves the methodology with a revised set of indicators which give more importance to service sectors, non-technological innovation and innovation outputs, which is important since innovation is not only about people in white coats and high tech. The report shows that European countries form four groupings at different levels of performance, and that virtually all countries have improved their performance although the rate of progress varies:

  • Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the UK are Innovation leaders, with innovation performance well above the EU average. Of these countries, Switzerland and Germany are improving their performance fastest.
  • Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and the Netherlands are Innovation followers, with performance above the EU average. Ireland’s performance has been increasing fastest within this group, followed by Austria.
  • Cyprus, Iceland, Estonia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy are the Moderate innovators, with innovation performance below the EU average. The trend in Cyprus’ innovation performance is well above the average for this group, followed by Portugal.
  • Malta, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Croatia, Romania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Turkey are the Catching-up countries with innovation performance well below the EU average. Most of these countries have been catching up. Bulgaria and Romania have been improving their performance the fastest.

Presenting the reports, Commissioners Verheugen and Potocnik stressed that “In a time of crisis, it is not the moment to take a break in research investments and in innovation. They are vital if Europe wants to emerge stronger from the economic crisis and if it wants to address the challenges of climate change and globalisation.”

While they are certainly right and need our full support on their forward-looking policies, I am missing Commissioner Hübner in the picture. EU regional policy makes up the largest chunk of EU money. However, while progress has been made on putting more Structural Funds money into financing innovation, the philosophy of the SF is still based on old-style economic development and not enough on the new knowledge based economy, we should be aspiring to.

We certainly need more research and research capacity in the Structural Funds of the future, or alternatively, put more money into EU research and innovation programmes, while making more efforts of ensuring the synergies between these policies, which follow different programming rules and timelines and largely service different client bases. It is at the regional end that these different policy streams and their complex administrative systems have to be sorted out and put to good use, which is not always an easy task. I hope we will see more debate on this with the forthcoming review of the EU budget.

And before I forget it, where is agriculture and rural development? The EU’s agricultural policy is running its own structural support schemes. How do they connect to the mainstream innovation and research policies in times when, again, due to the economic crisis, we are building butter mountains and subsidising skimmed-milk powder for exportation to the third world? Let’s invite the Agriculture Commissioner to this press conference as well. Well, next time. By then in 2010, the EIS will show us the post-financial crisis picture, if we are fortunate enough.

Follow this link to access the related Commission Press Release, memos and reports.

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