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I apologise for my long absence. Recently I have, of course, followed the Commission hearings, at least for those of the new Commissioners that are most interesting from a regional research and innovation perspective, which is what I am focusing on in this blog.

Clearly, this was a great moment for the European Parliament and for European democracy. One MEP quoted by Euractiv said that “we need a bit more than warm words”, which is perfectly right, of course, but I think we should give our new EU CEOs a bit of time to prove their credentials. Let’s see how they translate the willingness to cooperate and the management competence and grip of their future dossiers they demonstrated during the hearings into concrete action. A Commission insider, I spoke to last week, said he hopes this will lead to the emergence of a new generation of managers that is more collaborative instead of focusing on their departmental turf only. However, there is also scepticism, whether political will be enough and it remains important that the MEP’s follow up on this to see what concretely can be achieved at a service level.

On the individual Commissioner hearings, I hope that the proceedings will be out soon, so we can study the oral examinations in more in detail. There was, of course, Ms. Georghean-Quinn, the designated/new Research and Innovation Commissioner, who had a very convincing performance and showed herself clearly in the driving seat, raising the hopes that there will be much more coordination on innovation issues between the different and overlapping portfolios in the future.

Equally convincing was Regional Policy Commissioner Hahn, former Austrian Minister for Research, who stressed the need for the EU’s regional policy to be of benefit to all regions in Europe and who proposed a pro-active urban policy, treading in the footsteps of a former Regional Policy Commissioner, Ms. Wulf-Mathies. Ms. Hübner, his predecessor and Chairwoman of the REGI Committee, applauded him on this, said Euractiv. Most importantly he vowed to bring regional policy goals in line with the ‘EU 2020’ strategy, spending more SF on into innovation, research and education.

Another strong candidate, Günther Oettinger, former Premier of Baden-Württemberg and new Energy Commissioner, also stressed the importance of regions in his hearing. He promised to make energy efficiency and renewables key priorities for future EU funding, both key areas where regions have an important role to play, also in boosting eco-innovation and in creating markets for companies, and related growth and jobs.

Needless to say the green economy was all over the place in these hearings. Designated Enterprise Commissioner Tajani focused on this issue, but also on the need for better access to finance for SMEs, which is a red-hot issue after the banking crisis. SMEs were also mentioned by Ms. Georghean-Quinn in view of getting them more involved in the Research Framework Programme, for instance by cutting red tape to make it easier for them to get involved and benefit from the EU’s R&D spending.

Clearly, if we want to really tackle the innovation deficit of Europe’s SMEs, regional aspects become quite important. It is not the nation state that is responsible for supporting SMEs, but it’s really the regions. And while basic research and big industry has a strong lobby in the FP, which we see, for instance in the annual thematic Work Programmes, which set the funding priorities and actions, where according to an expert I spoke to you still don’t see much research funded that is close to industry, one wonders about the regional and SMEs lobbies. It looks like it’s high time to shape the future FP to better meet their needs and include a stronger regional dimension, for instance by promoting programmes like Regions of Knowledge (which does not seem to have a strong lobby either, although it’s a great, but underfunded programme for building regional R&D excellence and driving regional research and innovation clusters).

To anchor this blogpost, I would like to quote outgoing Enterprise Commissioner Verheugen (or his speechwriter): “Innovation cannot be organised by decree. It comes from people, and only people — scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and their employees, investors, consumers and public authorities — will make Europe more innovative. But they do not act in a vacuum. They act with a mindset and in a framework which either discourages or incites them to enter unknown territories.”

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