EU ministers for internal market, industry and research met on 25 February 2008 to agree on the key competitiveness and innovation issues they would like to see addressed by EU heads of state and government at the spring European Council in March.
They set out a number of recommendations which the Spring Summit is expected to support. In particular, the ministers are calling on member states and the Commission to increase their efforts by investing more in higher-quality knowledge and innovation and to unlock EU business potential by ensuring the smooth functioning of the internal market.
In addition, the ministers ask the Commission and member states to develop initiatives for "joint programming of research in areas where this approach is appropriate," leading to the launch of more strategic and better-structured joint programmes and common calls for projects as of 2010. The Commission is expected to present a communication on joint research programming in 2008.
Among other recommendations, the ministers urge quick progress on the several research initiatives and programmes that have already been adopted and are awaiting implementation. These include the various Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), Galileo and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), which is expected to be operational in 2010.
The Council is also recommending better promotion of the different instruments of the current EU research framework programme (FP7), such as the European Research Council (ERC), which awards grants for independent researchers to conduct basis research, and the new €2 billion instrument to fund 'riskier' research in Europe, the Risk-Sharing Finance Facility (see EurActiv 05/06/07).
The document on key issues also defines the "free flow of knowledge" as the "fifth freedom" by removing, for example, barriers to researchers wishing to work in another member state, said the Slovenian economy minister Andrej Vizjak.
The member states are asked to continue implementing their higher education reforms and modernising universities in view of enabling them to "develop their full potential" as partners of the private sector in creating and using knowledge and innovation. This comes as the Council also recommends improving the framework conditions for innovation in Europe by improving science-industry links and removing barriers to the creation of regional innovation clusters.