Sweden is one of the innovation leaders in Europe and scores persistently high on relevant benchmarks such as the European Innovation Scoreboard. It is also a place that attracts talent form around the world and embraces diversity in all its forms. And Sweden, as we found out, at our recent briefing on the Swedish Presidency R&D priorities has a refreshing managerial approach to tackling some of the challenges concerning the EU’s research agenda.

Introducing the briefing last week I quoted the famous Swedish Philosopher Bennie Anderson (“The winner takes it all”), pointing out that the question that drives us at ERRIN is how to create lots of winners in research and innovation. “The name of the game” here is certainly to foster regional research and innovation-friendly ecologies, which we would like to promote as the key organizing principle and the rationale for the European Research Area.

Successful ecologies are characterized by their low transaction costs among actors for the world of Open Innovation something we would like to see addressed in the European Innovation Plan. This means that regional policy is central to the future of ERA. Policy makers will need to be aware of the local innovation ecology in ways that perhaps have not been required of them so far. There is clearly a continued role for the public sector in developing these ecologies and the current economic crisis has even strengthened the role of government and raised the stakes of this game.

The ball was taken up by Bjarne Kirsebom, from the Swedish Permanent Representation to the EU, Minister responsible for Research and Development, who gave a fine performance on the ‘Swedish Presidency R&D priorities’. I have to say I would not have expected a presentation with that title to be so entertaining. ‘La Suede’ clearly gets ‘dix points’ for this.

Here are some bullets on Bjarne’s presentation. A full report is available for ERRIN members:

The starting point for the thinking about the Presidency’s R&D agenda is the Council mandate to come forward with a European Innovation Plan as an input into the Post-Lisbon Agenda.

There is a clear need for a strong effort in the innovation area but that would have to be closely connected to what’s happening in research. In this respect the Presidency is planning to focus on the future framework programme (how to set priorities?), the Knowledge Triangle and the ERA governance.

No proposal from the Commission on ERA governance is expected, however the question of “Who does what and how?” within ERA is hugely important. ERA needs a more managerial approach and major topics for discussion are:

  • The geographical scope of ERA, i.e. who is in and who is out (EU27, wider Europe, global?)
  • The institutional scope of ERA, e.g. is CERN, for instance, part of it what would this imply?
  • The relation between ERA and cohesion policy, i.e. is there any systematic interaction of policy-making between one and the other area?
  • The question of the right of initiative in ERA (Commission or Member States?)
  • As to other priorities, not all of which can be covered by the Presidency:

  • ICT, which would fit well as a contribution to the European Innovation Plan,
  • Research-based innovation as support for sustainable development,
  • the lagging behind of new Member States (an academic and industrial divide),
  • the lack of research infrastructure and its unbalanced distribution, which is a good example of a problem that had not been addressed properly, a kind of a “tip of the iceberg thing”
  • European universities, where it could be said that there were lots of disparate activities, but no political guidance, no comprehensive European policy
  • Having heard this, I have to say that I am looking forward to the Swedish Presidency, not only, but particularly from a research and innovation perspective. Let me add to this that I am also looking forward to the Spanish and Belgian Presidencies, which will both have a strong regional focus, so it is kind of a lucky coincidence for the regions to have those presidencies in a row. We just had organised a briefing on the Swedish Presidency R&D Priorities, in cooperation with our member South Sweden and will be organizing similar briefing events with Catalunia in October and the Brussels Region early next year.

    During the briefing we also received an ‘tour d’horizon’ on the building blocks of ERA and recent initiatives to promote partnerships with industry as in the joint technology initiatives as well as first conclusions of the FP7 monitoring report highlighting once again that the EU was still the largest producer of scientific knowledge, but that the private sector was not investing enough and that in this time of crisis there is a strong risk that private organizations will cut back on research.

    We also had a quite animated discussion with Jean-David Malo, Head of Unit “Regions of Knowledge and research potential”, DG RTD, who highlighted that the major obstacle today was clearly the question of governance and that the key question was how to use the different funds as efficiently and effectively as possible, which puts the stress on moving from synergies of design to synergies of action”. In this context he also highlighted the importance of mobilizing private funds. There was already a rising demand of loans from the EIB on research and innovation.

    Concerning synergies and ways to improve them, the Commission was keen to learn from good practice in the regions and was currently looking for such good practices and success stories to be published in a report (P.S. ERRIN is involved in a related panel debate at the Research Connection conference next week in Prague, where some of these examples and ways to achieve more of these synergies will be discussed…). Jean-David also pointed out that while under FP7 we have a competitive ‘the winner takes it all’ principle, cohesion policy would necessarily have to make choices. But it was important to avoid, for instance, a situation where two neighboring regions would propose the same research infrastructure. For the future, he agreed with ERRIN calls, as highlighted in our answer to the consultation on the future of cohesion policy, that research would certainly have to become more important in the Structural Funds.

    Thanks again to all speakers, you input was greatly appreciated, and to Madeline Koskull from South Sweden EU office for organizing this ERRIN event and the Swedish Perm Rep for hosting our discussion.

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