German minister: EU faces 'innovation gap'

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The EU's new innovation strategy must do more to link research, education and entrepreneurship if it is to tackle Europe's "innovation gap", Dr. Georg Schütte, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, told EurActiv in an interview.

Dr Georg Schütte is state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

He was speaking to Gary Finnegan.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

What is your view of the Europe 2020 strategy?

The federal government welcomes the Europe 2020 strategy. It encompasses all the major factors that will influence our potential for growth over the next decade, including energy and resource scarcity, climate change and demographic change.

The objectives of intelligent, sustainable and integrative growth set important priorities. Germany as a highly developed location for industry and technology is well positioned to meet future demand in this field. 

The Europe 2020 strategy will give education, research and innovation even greater political significance in our joint efforts to ensure new, sustainable growth and high quality jobs in Europe. The Europe 2020 strategy is therefore an important step for us to overcome the economic crisis and further the development of the European social market economy of the 21st century.

In particular, do you find the 3% R&D spending target to be a useful way of encouraging spending? How much of its GDP do you think Germany will spend on research?

The three percent target is very useful for increasing research expenditure. We are well on the way towards this goal. The latest figures put research expenditure at 2.64%, at the highest level since German reunification. This means there has already been an enormous boost and we are determined to keep up the momentum in the next few years.

Is the German federal government satisfied with the education targets? Have issues regarding competency in this area been dealt with?

At the European Council on 17 June, all EU member states, including Germany, agreed on the quantification of a set of EU education targets to improve education levels. They aim in particular at reducing school drop-out rates to less than 10% and increasing the share of 30-34 year-olds who have completed tertiary education or an equivalent to at least 40%.

The German federal government supports the agreement reached on this important issue.

To meet the concerns of some delegations, including Germany, the European Council's conclusions of 17 June emphasise the competence of member states to define and implement quantitative targets in the field of education.

Furthermore, the European Council's conclusions clarify that any country-specific recommendation addressed to member states must be fully in line with relevant Treaty provisions and EU rules and may not alter member states' competences, for example in areas such as education.

What are your hopes for the European Commission's Research & Innovation Plan?

We hope that the Innovation Union, i.e. the first flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy, will manage to develop an integrative package of measures along the entire innovation chain. The Innovation Union has to be an effective response to the European problem of the "innovation gap".

We must in particular succeed in intensifying the interaction between research, education and entrepreneurship. The guiding idea of the development of a European Research Area, which was anchored in primary legislation for the first time in the Treaty of Lisbon, must also be clearly anchored in the European Plan for Research and Innovation.

We also expect a clear commitment to the principle of excellence and to a simplification of procedures and reduced bureaucracy at national and European level. We urgently need more synergies between the different funding tools, namely by defining suitable plug-ins. The mutual recognition of common national funding procedures would have to be introduced in order to make further progress in this field.

In preparation for FP8, do you think Germany will attract roughly the same proportion of funding?

Research and innovation are of outstanding importance to the future of Europe and are one of the mainstays of the Europe 2020 strategy. We are therefore optimistic that discussions on priorities in the future EU budget will have a positive impact on the 8th EU Research Framework Programme.

The federal government presented its structural ideas on FP8 in a guideline paper to the member states and the EU Commission in spring this year.

Competitive research locations in the member states are of central importance for achieving the European targets of the 8th Research Framework Programme. With its national research and innovation system, Germany has a good basis for substantial participation in the upcoming Research Framework Programme and for achieving the European targets.

Given your responsibility in the areas of research and education, what is your view on the optimal relationship between business and academia?

The federal government will link science and industry more strongly in its High-Tech Strategy 2020 to enable the rapid and efficient commercial exploitation of scientific findings. It will continue to promote exchanges between institutions of higher education, non-university research institutes and companies and will strengthen the process of knowledge and technology transfer.

Research results can thus be translated more rapidly into innovations both on the market and in society.

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