The overwhelming majority of innovation experts want EU structural funds to be used to get innovative products and services to the market, according to a new survey. As the European Commission readies its new innovation plan, a consensus is also forming around the need to slash bureaucratic procedures and boost venture capital funding.
These were the main findings of the General Electric (GE) 'Innovation Barometer', an independent poll of 240 opinion leaders on EU innovation policies carried out by StrategyOne and unveiled in Brussels yesterday (14 September).
The research, published in conjunction with GE's 'ecomagination challenge' for open collaboration on new technologies, comes ahead of the Commission's 'Innovation Union' strategy to be presented in October.
Against the backdrop of the economic crisis and the ensuing loss of millions of jobs, the EU's 'Europe 2020' strategy has set the bloc a series of headline targets focussed on smart, sustainable growth and a competitive, green European economy over the next decade.
The Commission's Innovation Union plan is one of seven flagship initiatives in Europe 2020 and the barometer respondents are in no doubt about the importance of innovation in the coming years. 90% believe it is the main lever for creating a more competitive and greener economy and 86% see it as the best way to create jobs in the EU.
Structural funds: Cut red tape and be bolder
91% of the respondents – who included MEPs, Commission officials and business and academic leaders – want the EU to use its structural funds to accelerate the uptake of innovation products and services.
Asked what is preventing companies from accessing EU money for the development of innovative business ventures, 88% cited bureaucratic procedures that slow down the absorption of the structural funds. More than 60% also pointed to a lack of expertise on the ground and the inability to come up with matching funds.
But it is not only the drawn-out bureaucratic procedures which are hindering innovation, but also competition from "easier" projects, said respondents. Innovative ventures that are perceived as risky and harder to measure in terms of success often lose out, they said.
The Commission has earmarked €80 billion for innovation in structural funds, stated a Commission official. Yet one think-tank respondent called for a shift in emphasis from traditional to green business and a focus on innovation in knowledge and education.
"How can we do this? Through (e)government and (e)education. These are innovative new solutions for the health and education sectors that help to avoid bureaucratic procedures," they affirmed.