Do we need a European Innovation Union?

, by Ingvil Louise Nürnberg

Do we need a European Innovation Union?
Laboratory material Credit © European Union, 2011

It is not my intention to keep you in the dark for very long. I will instead, straight away, give you a very clear ‘yes’ to answer the question posed above. However, the crucial question is not whether we need innovation to keep up Europe’s competitiveness, our capacity to create jobs to replace those lost in the crisis and, not least, retain our future standard of living. The question is whether the Innovation Union – being part of the EU 2020 strategy – will to solve challenges posed by public budget constraints, major demographic changes and increasing global competition as well as societal challenges such as climate change, energy and resource scarcity, health and ageing.

The European potential

Europe has no shortage of potential. We have world leading researchers, entrepreneurs, companies and unique strengths in our values, traditions, creativity and diversity. We are making great progress creating the largest home market in the world, and European enterprises and civil society are actively engaged in emerging and developing economies world-wide.

But although many world-changing innovations can be traced back to Europe, we can – and must – do better. Europe must build on its strengths and decisively tackle its weaknesses in order for the Innovation Union to be a success. The Innovation Union must be filled with a new, bold, integrated and strategic political agenda, fighting the business-as-usual mentality in order to increase our competitive advantages and secure European progress!

Europe – face your challenges!

We need to secure investment in our knowledge foundation. Today, other countries like the USA and Japan are out-investing us, and China is rapidly catching up. We have to work on unsatisfactory framework conditions, ranging from poor access to finance, high costs of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), slow standardization and ineffective use of public procurement, as these issues are serious handicaps as long as companies can choose where to invest and conduct research.

Possibly the biggest challenge for the EU and its Member States, is to ensure that innovation, in a longer-term perspective, becomes the overarching policy objective in all policy fields, and that all policy instruments, measures and funding are designed to contribute to this aim. Consequently, Europe needs among others a closer alignment and mutual reinforcement between EU and national/regional policies.

What does an innovative future call for?

What are the answers to such challenges? How can we, as the future generation of the EU, make sure that the Innovation Union does not only achieve its objectives in 2020 but continues to be a successful policy instruments in the future?

In times of fiscal constraints, the EU and Member States need to step up investments in education, research and development (R&D) and ICT. Furthermore, focus must be to create world-class universities, raise skill levels and attract talents from abroad. Researchers and innovators must be able to work and cooperate across the EU, implying the truly free movement of knowledge.

Access to EU R&D programmes must be simplified, and their leverage effect on private sector investments must be enhanced among others by reinforcing the role of the European Investment Bank and the European Research Council and boosting the focus on nurturing fast-growing SMEs. In addition, the European Regional Development Fund should be used to fully exploit R&D capacities based on regional specialisation.

More European research should generate more innovation. Cooperation between scientists and business(wo)men must be enhanced. Also, remaining barriers for entrepreneurs to bring ideas to market must be removed, involving better access to finance, affordable IPR, smarter regulations, and strategic use of massive procurement budgets.

Partnerships between the EU institutions, national/regional authorities and business should be launched to accelerate R&D and commercialisation of innovations to tackle major societal challenges, pool expertise and resources and boost the competitiveness of EU industry. Furthermore, we must identify and give visibility to successful public sector innovation. Simultaneously, more international partners are also needed.

This, in essence, is what Innovation Union is all about. The benefits will be significant. Recent estimates show that achieving the target of spending 3% of EU GDP on R&D by 2020 could create 3.7 million jobs and increase annual GDP by close to €800 billion by 2025. Realising it will, however, require the full and sustained support of all levels of EU institutions, Member State governments, businesses, public authorities, researchers and the public.

With Innovation Union, we have a vision, an agenda, a clear distribution of tasks and robust monitoring procedures. Let us hope that the Innovation Union will turn out to be the same for Europe as we as Young European Federalists aim to be - simply a generation ahead.

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