A scientific Europe is imperative

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Helga Nowotny of the European Research Council analyses the future of research, innovation and development in Europe, particularly in light of the upcoming determination of the EU's long-term budget for the period 2014-2020.

Helga Nowotny is president of the European Research Council and Professor Emerita of Social Studies of Science at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).

"On 29 June, the European Commission will present its budget proposal for the next multi-year period, which begins in 2014. It will include items such as the Common Agricultural Policy, regional structural funds, and research and innovation. But how does the European Union envisage using these investments to shape its future?

The European Parliament and the Council of Europe's member states are yet to have their say, as foreseen in the budget procedure. But several trends are discernible in the intense discussion that has already begun, both within the European Commission and among the various stakeholders,

For one thing, the term 'framework programme' will be scrapped. Even its name is up for grabs: the European Commission has just launched an open competition to come up with a new one. The goal is to capture the major underlying policy shift from a highly heterogeneous portfolio of programmes – intended to support various goals in various ways and to varying degrees – to a legislative and budgetary package designed to serve as a common strategic framework.

But a framework constructed to achieve what? The strengthening of Europe's position within an atmosphere of heightened global competitiveness remains at the forefront. The dramatic increase of China's share in scientific publications worldwide, recently highlighted in a report by the Royal Society in London, is a good indicator of what lies ahead.

The aim is no longer to become 'the world's most competitive knowledge economy,' as disingenuously announced in 2000. Rather, it has shifted in a more urgent, complex, and inherently unforeseeable way, as spelled out in the EU 2020 strategy's vision of an 'Innovation Union'.

Under this broad umbrella, research, development, and innovation (RD&I) policy must identify the right answers on two fronts: 'what' and 'how'. Currently, a three-pronged strategy can be discerned for the 'what': knowledge for growth (economic recovery and prosperity); knowledge for society (tackling the grand challenges ahead, from climate change and energy security to healthy ageing); and knowledge for science (nurturing Europe's science and technology base, which remains indispensable for innovation).

Under the banner of 'simplification,' the 'how' is gravitating towards outsourcing most of the implementation to agencies that are to be endowed, one hopes, with greater flexibility to fulfill their specific missions. This requires a smoothly working and much more efficient interface between the agencies and the European Commission, which retains overall control over them, as well as a thorough revision of the financial regulation for the entire operation and its oft-criticised bureaucratic red tape.

Some tough political choices lie ahead: Which parts of the framework programme are to be continued, and which terminated? How can innovation, which is never only technological, but social as well, be achieved and fully used? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the optimal trade-offs to get EU member states and European institutions to cooperate more efficiently for a common European future?"

To read the op-ed in full, please click here.

Published in partnership with Project Syndicate

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