EU to convene subgroup of ‘innovation commissioners’

The European Commission will formally establish a subgroup of at least eight EU commissioners with a stake in innovation policy when it meets this week.

The committee, chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's commissioner for research, innovation and science, will work on a new research and innovation strategy due to be published in the autumn.

A full meeting of the College of Commissioners last Wednesday (14 April) has already discussed the outline of the plan and the new working group will be expected to flesh out the proposal over the coming months.The final composition of the Commission's innovation subgroup will be agreed this week but it is expected to include Antonio Tajani (Industry and Entrepreneurship), Johannes Hahn (Regional Policy), László Andor (Employment), Neelie Kroes (Digital Agenda), Androulla Vassiliou (Education), Michel Barnier (Internal Market), and Günther Oettinger (Energy).Geoghegan-Quinn first mentioned the idea of an innovation committee during her parliamentary confirmation hearing in January. She insisted it would not be a "talking shop" and said it would deliver concrete results (EURACTIV 14/01/10).She also wants the group to feed into the debate on how to measure the effectiveness of EU spending on R&D. A team of Commission officials is currently working with economists and businesspeople to design a new "innovation indicator," which will be a feature of the Research & Innovation plan.This follows agreement by EU leaders to invest 3% of GDP in research, provided that a more sophisticated "output measure" is developed by the Commission. The expert panel will report to the EU executive's subgroup on innovation (EURACTIV 17/03/10; EURACTIV 26/03/10).The new strategy is scheduled to be at the top of the agenda when EU leaders meet in Brussels in the autumn.Speaking in the European Parliament last week (15 April) for the first time since her hearing in January, Geoghegan-Quinn said the innovation committee would work to remove barriers to innovation in Europe."We are looking to address all the bottlenecks in innovation. We want to translate our excellent research into products that our companies can bring to market. Europe needs to remove barriers that get in the way of getting from research to retail," she said. Informal research subgroupSeparately, Geoghegan-Quinn also wants to bring together a second group of commissioners interested in research which would also meet regularly, albeit on a less formal basis.This "research family" of commissioners will use the meetings to influence the EU research agenda, according to Geoghegan-Quinn."Commissioners in areas like energy, environment and transport need direct access to DG Research to be able to commission the research that is necessary," she said.Geoghegan-Quinn said there is unprecedented political momentum behind the innovation agenda, with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy making it a central plank of the Council's agenda for the first time.She said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso would present the research and innovation plan to EU leaders in the autumn and had made innovation a flagship initiative of the Europe 2020 strategy. The stars are aligned for progress in this key area, the innovation commissioner said."We have one opportunity. If we don't take advantage of it, I don't know when it will come again," Geoghegan-Quinn said.She also stressed the need to use structural funds to address inequality between European regions, adding that Johannes Hahn, EU commissioner for regional policy, is a key ally given his experience as research minister in Austria.'Cross-cutting' approach to research policyEfforts to develop a more inclusive approach to research policy fit with Geoghegan-Quinn's promise to adopt a "cross-cutting" approach to her brief.During the reshuffle of portfolios within the European Commission, serious consideration was given to the idea of dispersing responsibility for research across the College of Commissioners. This would have seen the energy commissioner take charge of energy research, and the transport commissioner control mobility research.However, it was ultimately decided to keep it under Geoghegan-Quinn's remit, but to be more responsive to the needs of commissioners with a direct interest in the research agenda.A spokesperson for the Commission said the composition of the formal innovation commissioners' group would be finalised by President Barroso, but the group of commissioners with a stake in research would only meet on an ad hoc basis."This [research commissioners group] is a purely informal initiative with no formal membership. Of course, commissioners often meet informally on all sorts of subjects and any such discussion between commissioners can influence the policy agenda by ultimately feeding into decision-making at full Commission level," the spokesperson said.

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).

  • 21 April 2010: European Commission to establish subgroup of innovation commissioners.
  • Autumn 2010: Commission President José Manuel Barroso to present Research & Innovation plan to EU leaders at autumn summit.

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