Despite multiple EU initiatives aimed at increasing investment in research in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2010 - a target agreed upon by EU leaders in order to meet the bloc's Lisbon growth and jobs goals - Eurostat figures show that the objective remains far out of reach.
Sweden (3.82%) and Finland (3.45%) remain the biggest spenders in terms of percentage of GDP, followed by Germany (2.51%), Austria (2.45%) and Denmark (2.43%). However, if measured by volume, Germany, France and the UK continue to spend the most - €58, €38 and €32 respectively. Together, they are responsible for around 60% of total R&D expenditure, which amounted to €210 billion in the EU 27 in 2006. The lowest R&D intensities were registered in Cyprus (0.42%), Romania (0.46%) and Bulgaria (0.48%).
The new statistics also rank countries according to the proportion of scientists and engineers in their population. Here, the EU-27 average was 4.8% in 2006. The highest shares of scientists and engineers were found in Belgium (7.9%), Ireland (6.8%) and the Nordic countries (6.7-6.0%) and the lowest in Portugal (2.7%), Bulgaria, Austria and Slovakia (all 3.0%).
Increasing the number of scientists throughout the bloc will be a key consideration at this week's Spring Summit (13-14 March), expected to consider ways to speed up progress towards the Lisbon agenda objectives of more competitiveness, growth and jobs. Ahead of the meeting, the EU-27 ministers in charge of competitiveness called on leaders, in late February 2008, "to invest more and more effectively" in research, innovation and higher education at all levels and to reinforce efforts to achieve the 3% R&D investment target.
The ministers also want EU head of states and government to "take concrete steps" to increase human resources for science and technology and to "enhance the mobility and career prospects of researchers" by building a European Research Area (ERA). The aspiration is to remove all obstacles to the cross-border mobility of knowledge in the EU and allow for free movement of knowledge, defined as a "fifth freedom". It would, for example, include initiatives to remove barriers to researchers wishing to work in another member state.