Switzerland far outranks EU on innovation


New statistics from the European Commission show that Switzerland far surpasses the EU in innovation. But it is uncertain how long the country can hold its top spot, as the Swiss continue to distance themselves from the EU, EURACTIV Germany reports.

Switzerland is the most innovative country in Europe, according to figures in the latest EU Innovation Union Scoreboard.

The results come just weeks after the European Commission announced it would freeze negotiations over Switzerland’s participation in the EU’s multi-billion-euro research programme, Horizon 2020, and the student exchange program Erasmus+.

The EU decision came in response to the Swiss referendum “Against Mass Immigration”, held on 9 February, which reintroduced immigration quotas on EU nationals.

Following the vote, the Swiss government called off negotiations to expand free movement of people with EU-newcomer Croatia. But the European Commission attacked the Swiss decision, saying it violates the bilateral agreement on the free movement of persons.

Swiss researchers and academics fear their country risks losing its strong international position as a dynamic centre for research, as a result of the decision. Swiss companies are also concerned about their competitiveness.

>> Read: Switzerland gets first penalty for immigration vote

Germany still ranked high

Undisturbed by Swiss fears of decline, Germany reaffirmed its strong position in innovation in the EU, despite ranking one place lower than in the previous study. The Federal Republic currently stands in third place, falling behind Sweden and Denmark.

Nevertheless Germany remains among the group of European “innovation leaders with innovation performance far above the EU average”, the Commission report said. The worst performers in the ranking were Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania. Their innovation performance lies “far under the EU average”.

Ranking on innovation performance is based on various factors: from research and academic sectors, innovative activities of companies and intellectual capital to innovation in SMEs and the economic effects, reflecting balanced national research and innovation systems.

Not only Switzerland but South Korea, the United States and Japan also outrank the EU in innovation. While the gap between the EU and US or Japan has decreased by roughly one-half in recent years, South Korea’s lead has increased.

The EU maintained its lead against Australia, Canada and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). With the exception of China, which is quickly catching up with its competitors, the European Union’s lead is stable, and might even be improving.

Reacting to the outcome, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani emphasised the role of innovation in Europe. “Making innovation happen all over Europe remains a priority if we want to achieve our industrial policy objective," Tajani said. "More business investment, a stronger demand for European innovative solutions and fewer obstacles to the commercial up-take of innovations are the key to growth. We need more innovative companies and a growth-friendly framework to bring innovations successfully to the markets”, the commissioner explained.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's commissioner for research, innovation and science, added: "With a budget of nearly €80 billion over the next seven years, our new research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 will help us maintain this momentum. We need to increase innovation investment across the EU now, to reach our target of 3% of GDP by 2020."

Commissioner Johannes Hahn, responsible for regional policy, said: "Today's Scoreboards show that while some regions are clearly pushing forward, disparities exist. The new Regional Policy will address this head on: every one of Europe's 274 regions will have to develop a smart specialization strategy which will include innovation. Regions will have to build on their economic strengths and develop innovative ways to face global competition."

Switzerland is the third largest economic partner of the EU, after the United States and China. Switzerland is able to participate in the EU's single market thanks to a series of bilateral agreements. This approach suits the Swiss confederation, but its complexity has become problematic for the EU and attempts were up to now under way to simplify the relationship.

Despite the country's wealth and economic success, immigration is a hot-button issue in Switzerland where the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) has long blamed rising rents, crowded public transport and higher crime on an influx of foreigners.

Switzerland’s immigration policy is based on free movement of people from the EU and allowing a restricted number of non-EU citizens to enter the country. Swiss industry heavyweights such as drugmakers Roche and Novartis as well as banks UBS and Credit Suisse have traditionally looked outside the country for highly skilled and specialised staff.

The Swiss business community has warned that re-imposing immigration quotas on EU citizens quotas would call the country's bilateral agreements with the bloc into question [more]. 

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