Finance ministers want 3% R&D target ditched


EU finance ministers are fighting against the European Commission's target of spending 3% of GDP on research and development (R&D), demanding a new "outcome-oriented" measure of success.

The 3% figure is one of five headline goals of the 'Europe 2020' growth strategy and has been firmly backed by EU Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (EURACTIV 09/03/10).

Meeting in Brussels yesterday (16 March), finance ministers called for "urgent consideration" of wider indicators to measure R&D and innovation, putting the European Council on a collision course with the EU executive, which has put its political weight behind the target.

Including spending as an indicator has proven controversial and has exposed differences between ministries of finance and research across Europe. With public budgets under pressure, finance ministers are reluctant to commit to additional spending on R&D.

Geoghegan-Quinn directly referred to the rift between ministers earlier this month when she defended the 3% spending target.

''I know that this is controversial. But I believe that it should stay. Research ministers have told me in clear terms that its existence has strengthened their hand in their dealings with their finance ministers. Now is exactly the wrong moment to remove this discipline," she said (EURACTIV 09/03/10).

However, she also said she would set up a panel of experts to look at new indicators to measure research and innovation output.

Last week, Gerard de Graaf, a senior Commission official working on the implementation of the 2020 strategy, also acknowledged problems with blanket spending commitments.

He said using "input targets" – like spending – was far from ideal but is still the best option currently available. "We are determined to come up with a better measure of outputs," he said, adding that internationally comparable benchmarks are needed.

Beginning of the end of crisis measures

Separately, finance ministers agreed to pull back policies introduced at the height of the economic crisis, such as bank guarantees and support for subsidised part-time work.

Ministers pointedly highlighted that some member states have extended "temporary measures" beyond 2010 and urged them to withdraw these as soon as possible.

They also agreed to embark on reforms that would put public finances on a sustainable course and called on the EU executive to draw up a report on the main structural reform bottlenecks by May.

  • 25-26 March 2010: EU summit to discuss the strategy's overall approach and the Commission's proposed headline objectives.
  • 17-18 June 2010: EU summit to adopt further details of the strategy, including country-specific targets.
  • Autumn 2010: Member states to submit stability and convergence programmes, as well as national reform programmes.

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