"I believe the 2009 Year of Creativity and Innovation will represent a source of inspiration. It should grow into a big tree and not only be a one-year plant," Education Commissioner Ján Fígel said at the official opening of the year in Prague. "Those who invest in creativity and innovation will be more competitive than those who do not," he declared (EURACTIV 09/01/09).
No lack of innovative initiatives
There is no shortage of EU initiatives in support of innovation. EU leaders made innovation a key element of the bloc's strategy to boost growth and jobs (see EURACTIV Links Dossier), while it also features in the bloc's recently adopted economic recovery plan, which highlights the need to boost R&D investment, increase broadband coverage in rural areas and turn Europe into a low-carbon economy (EURACTIV 27/11/08).
However, a recent Commission report showed that progress has so far been limited (EURACTIV 30/01/09). In terms of R&D funding, Europe is even falling further behind the US, a recent study suggested, indicating that the EU may never close the gap without boosting investment in the services sector (EURACTIV 10/02/09). But other experts disagree with the one-dimensional approach of defining innovation solely in terms of R&D investment.
Despite differences of opinion, it is clear that such findings largely contradict the EU's stated objective of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010, a target set out in the Lisbon Strategy ten years ago but which has since quietly been dropped.
industries ignored so far
Ann Mettler, executive director of the Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think tank, lauded the Commission's attempt to "broaden our understanding of innovation" by including creativity in the picture. "We shouldn't underestimate the benefits of creative industries, such as film-making or design," Mettler told EURACTIV, declaring that these industries offer a "huge opportunity" to transform Europe into a "magnet for talent from around the world".
The EU executive has pledged to highlight creative industries' potential with events throughout the year, supported by various special ambassadors working as authors, artists or directors in their home countries.
Education and life-long learning
In line with the EU's goal of becoming a knowledge-based society (see EURACTIV LinksDossier), education and life-long learning will also feature prominently on the agenda of the European Year.
The events planned complement the Union's 'New skills for new jobs' initiative, unveiled by the Commission at the end of 2008 (EURACTIV 17/12/08). The initiative was designed to help Europe's workforce to adapt to the changing economy, which has become more services-oriented and more focused on ICT and green technologies. For Ann Mettler, this was already "a step into the right direction".
Creativity starts at school
The EU executive admits that schools play a crucial role in stimulating and discovering problem-solving attitudes, curiosity and talents, but regrets that the role of creativity in their curricula is declining.
Events like an annual European six-week 'Spring Day' campaign, which invites all kinds of schools to devote one or more days to debates, interaction and reflection on European themes, should help to address this.
More school-business links
The Commission is also seeking to foster closer cooperation between educational institutions and businesses. Speaking at the second edition of the University-Business Forum on 5-6 February, Education Commissioner Ján Figel' said European universities have significant untapped potential, "especially in their ability to establish links with the business community" (EURACTIV 06/02/09).
The EU executive will publish a Communication on 'University-Business Cooperation' in April to establish a set of good practices, Figel' said, adding that it will be a "recipe" for partnership between education and industry.
The move is considered as a response to the growing number of complaints from employers that many graduates do not have the right mix of knowledge and skills, the commissioner stated. "In particular, they ask for more cross-cutting and transferable skills. So, this is a suggestion for academia," he added.
The EU executive's priorities are enhancing learner mobility by expanding the Erasmus programme, improving the efficiency of education and training, modernising Europe's universities and promoting innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.