Belgian Presidency to put spotlight on innovation

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The incoming Belgian EU Presidency plans to devote the autumn European summit to innovation policy, but a long-awaited report by President Van Rompuy on economic governance is set to overshadow long-term strategies.

EU leaders are due to debate a new 'Research and Innovation Plan' when they meet in Brussels in the autumn, with the focus likely to be on intellectual property, research funding, public procurement and innovation infrastructure.

The final version of the plan is due to be approved at a subsequent summit in December, leaving ample time for national industry and research ministers to flesh out the Commission's proposal in detail. 

It will be the first time an EU summit has been earmarked for innovation policy, but ongoing instability in the euro zone could relegate the issue to the bottom of the agenda – just as the Greek debt crisis took the spotlight off the 'Europe 2020' jobs strategy at the Spanish Presidency's spring summit. 

Intensive work on the strategy has been ongoing since Research and Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn took office in January, with research ministers urging the EU executive to prioritise the question of how innovation is financed (EURACTIV 28/05/10).

Restoring competitiveness top priority

Belgium is part of a 'trio' of EU nations which run the agenda of ministerial meetings over an 18-month period. In line with a programme agreed with Spain and Hungary, Belgium is making competitiveness a key priority of its tenure.

Progress on a European patent and completion of the internal market – based on a report by former EU Commissioner Mario Monti – will be at the centre of their efforts. So too will the focus on revamping industrial policy.

Linking the 'Europe 2020' growth strategy with developing lead markets and tackling counterfeiting are listed as priority areas by the trio and Belgium will be expected to drive ahead on these issues.

R&D will come into sharp focus at the autumn summit as member states are due to sign off on individual national targets for research spending. The European Commission wants governments to spend an average of 3% of GDP on R&D, but advanced member states will face higher targets than those with traditionally lower levels of investment. 

Diplomatic sources say governments have insisted that there will be no "burden sharing" element to hitting the Commission's proposed Community target of 3% – meaning the average of the national targets could ultimately come in below the 3% mark.

Will Van Rompuy's task force steal limelight?

Despite the insistence that innovation will be the cornerstone of political debate in the autumn, question marks remain over leaders' ability to focus on longer-term goals.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy is due to present the findings of his task force on economic governance at the autumn summit, which will inevitably grab the headlines in October.

Just as the Spanish Presidency's farewell summit last week (17 June) saw leaders rubber-stamp the 'Europe 2020' plan while devoting much of their energy to pressing economic reforms, the Belgians may have a fight on their hands if they want innovation to top the agenda at the next summit.

Innovation has been the policy leitmotiv in Brussels for a number of years, culminating in the decision to designate 2009 the European Year of Creativity and Innovation (EYCI).

Policy in this area was split between a dozen or so separate directorate-generals until November 2009, when European Commission President José Manuel Barroso named Ireland's Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as the EU's first innovation commissioner (EURACTIV 30/11/09).

The notion of streamlining innovation policy had been well flagged in Brussels policy circles, but the decision to marry the innovation portfolio with the existing research dossier raised some eyebrows (EURACTIV 23/09/09).

The EU executive is also expected to publish a major new research and innovation strategy in time for the autumn summit of European leaders (EURACTIV 18/03/10).

  • 16 Sept.: Belgian Presidency to host first informal summit.
  • 28-29 Oct.: Autumn summit to debate innovation strategy and Van Rompuy task force report.
  • 17 Dec.: EU leaders to adopt Commission's Research and Innovation plan.

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