The Commission has come up with another proposal to foster innovation, but, as usual, the responsibility for its implementation lies with Member States.
The Communication on “Innovation: putting knowledge into practice” focuses on implementing a cultural change in Europe towards a society where innovation is encouraged both on the supply and demand side. It sets out ten high-priority actions, including:
Establishing innovation–friendly education systems: Europe needs more and better-trained people otherwise whole economic sectors, such as ICT, will have to bring in workers from elsewhere to fulfil their needs. “That’s why we’re calling on the Member States urgently to reform their education systems in order to equip people better for the future,” said Commissioner Verheugen. Solutions could involve increasing the focus on technological and scientific issues, incapacitating basic business courses into school curricula and facilitating mobility and exchange of ideas among Member States.
Attracting researchers through the establishment of a European Institute of Technology: Commissioner Verheugen said the creation of such a ‘centre of excellence’, capable of attracting high-calibre students and researchers is essential for bringing down Europe’s “horrifying” brain-drain figures. “We urgently need a programme for the ‘repatriation’ of European researchers and scientists to get them back here, but in order to attract them back, we need proper institutes,” he said. The aim is to establish the Institute by 2009 although not all Member States are convinced of the usefulness of the proposal and many scientists remain strongly opposed.
Develop a strategy for innovation friendly “lead-markets”: The Commission is looking to develop “lead markets” aimed at facilitating the creation and marketing of innovative products and services. The idea is to identify promising new areas where public authorities can facilitate industry-led innovation by removing certain barriers, setting standards, improving procurement rules or providing support for research. Primary targets would be areas that respond to societal demands, such as transport, health, internal security or eco-innovation.
Stimulate innovation through procurement: Contracting authorities can play an important role in encouraging innovation through the use of ‘smart’, innovation-oriented and performance-based public-procurement systems.
Structural changes: Commissioner Verheugen pointed out that to translate these ideas into action, it was clear that Member States would have to undergo structural reforms that could be painful. Pension, health and also business systems will have to become “more innovative and more sustainable”, he said.