Europe has started doing better in high-tech research but still has a lot more to do, particularly to capitalise on the results. This is the conclusion of the independent expert report, chaired by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, that analysed the effectiveness of Information Society research under the EU’s 6th Framework Programme for Research and Development. Although Europe has considerably improved its high-tech research, with the European Commission taking the lead in boosting Micro Computer and Nano-Electronic research, it now needs to move up a gear to bridge the innovation gap with other parts of the world.
The EU has invested over €4 billion in Information Society research between 2003 and 2006, complementing the €100 billion invested by Member States and private companies. While implementing a new research programme that will run until 2013, the Commission has requested an independent panel of experts, chaired by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, to explore how the effectiveness of the EU’s research spending could be improved in order to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness.
“In recent years Europe’s Information Society research has delivered encouraging results from mobile communications to Electronic Stability Control systems in motor cars. However, I believe a systemic change in the EU’s research policy is needed to avoid that EU research spending is not more than a mere drop in the ocean,” said Esko Aho, chairman of the expert panel. “I call on the EU Member States and on the European Parliament to equip the EU with the right, flexible tools to better focus European high-tech research and to open it up to more risk and to new international partners.”
Commissaris Reding noemt het Aho-rapport “a wake-up call for all policy makers responsible for economic policy, research and budgetary rules,” said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding in a first reaction to the report. “The €4 billion spent on high-tech research is a considerable amount of taxpayer’s money. However, Europe does not get the most out of it in terms of growth, jobs and innovation. The Aho Report has rightly concluded that the effectiveness of Europe’s high-tech research is too often stifled by red tape, a lack of venture capital and a risk-averse mentality in both national and European administrations. I thank Esko Aho and his distinguished panel for having used plain English to highlight these shortcomings.
The consequences to be drawn from the Aho Report will have to be discussed intensely by the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and also the European Commission itself as a matter of priority under the forthcoming French Presidency. In this debate, nothing should be a taboo. I will not be satisfied by empty promises when what we need is a strong shared will to reform the system of EU research. One measure for the Commission to explore is to centralise and focus EU research in one department. We should also better exploit public- private partnerships allowing for more flexibility under the EU’s rules. I will address these issues in a Communication to the European Parliament and the Council in autumn this year. European competitiveness within a rapidly changing world economy is at stake, so we have no time to lose.”
The “Aho Panel” included the following independent experts:
Mr. Esko Aho (Chairman) – former Prime Minister of Finland and President of the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development (Sitra)
Mr. Michel Cosnard – Professor at the Polytechnic School of the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Chairman and CEO of INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique)
Mr. Hans-Olaf Henkel – Professor at the University of Mannheim and former CEO of IBM Europe, Middle East and Africa as well as former President of the Federation of German Industries
Mr. Luc Soete – Director of UNU-MERIT (the United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology)
Mrs. Nicoletta Stame – Professor, Social Policy, University of Rome “La Sapienza” and Co-founder and first president of AIV (Italian Evaluation Association)