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France calls for a 'European innovation area'

High level representatives from the EU Member States and beyond joined innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers in Lyon on 21 November to debate which 15 factors are most important for the future success of innovation in Europe. The event, organised by the French Ministry of...

High level representatives from the EU Member States and beyond joined innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers in Lyon on 21 November to debate which 15 factors are most important for the future success of innovation in Europe. The event, organised by the French Ministry of Economy, finance and industry and the Ministry of Research, followed on directly from the European Commission's second forum on innovation and entrepreneurship. 'We need to bring together Europe's innovation make headway,' said Laurent Fabius, the French Minister of economy, finance and industry, as he formally opened the proceedings. 'It may be that our efforts are scattered. In the absence of a pan-European approach Europe will benefit less.' He went on to call for coordination of national policies - while respecting subsidiarity - to achieve a 'European innovation area'. Three panels discussed the themes of: 'society, growth and innovation'; 'capital, funding and innovation' and 'research, technology and innovation'. Later, participants were asked to rank the level of importance of a number of drivers to innovation, brought up during contributors' presentations. The results were as follows: For the round table on 'society, growth and innovation': - train up on innovation and foster entrepreneurship; - identify the new skills needed and adapt the education systems accordingly; - develop tools and services for the information society - including the Internet - for social inclusion; - develop public understanding of science; - promote organisational innovation. For the round table on 'capital funding and innovation': - support the early stages of innovative business; - mobilise private financing of innovation; - coordinate national and European support mechanisms for innovative companies; - promote the development of European venture capital; - decentralise European support to innovation in SMEs. And in the round table on 'research, technology and innovation', participants selected the following ideas as priority areas for action: - Boost the R&D effort in Europe; - develop SME innovation based on research results; - introduce a European patent suited to applicants' needs; - foster European researcher mobility; - enhance Europe's appeal to the world's best researchers. Thanking the French Government for making innovation a priority of its current presidency of the European Union, Erkki Liikanen, the European Commissioner for Enterprise told participants: 'The Fiera and Lisbon summits marked the beginning of a process by which the Commission set itself ambitious objectives and a reaffirmation that innovation is important...The development of innovative companies is one of the foremost aims of innovation policy.' He spoke of the need to support start-ups through structures and services such as business angels and incubators. 'The exchange of information and assistance should lead to a global approach at the European level...(and) benchmarking makes it possible to identify the best practices and follow them'. He also spoke of the need to be wary of over-regulation: 'The Commission aims to eliminate rules and regulations that are not useful in practice,' he said. 'The concept of co-regulation and co-management are also important, so possibly we should look at self-regulation.' The symposium participants, which included, French Minister for Research, Roger Gérard Schwartzenberg, as well as José-Mariano Gago, the Portuguese Minister for research, and Philippe Busquin, the European Commissioner for research, also touched on the issue of ethical challenges. These 'are almost as big as regulatory ones - particularly in biotechnology,' said Commissioner Liikanen. 'The Commission has a role to play in promoting innovation and restoring confidence.' Laurent Fabius agreed: ' We spend more on cosmetic research than on research against malaria,' he said, stressing the need for ethical and moral considerations to be taken into consideration more and more in innovation. 'Europe is committed to innovation and certainly has the means to become an innovative and powerful Europe.' Philippe Busquin was more circumspect. While he agreed the European Union holds market shares in aero-technology and biotechnology, he pronounced the EU's overall performance in the field of innovation 'far too weak'. The key to improving innovation, he believes, is through better organisation of research in Europe. 'Innovation is more than research, but research is still a vital requisite for innovation and it is not frequently recalled. In my capacity as research Commissioner I am here to remind everyone that our figure of 1.8 per cent [of European GDP that goes towards funding research] is far behind the USA and Japan....An effort needs to be made in each Member State to increase the research budget,' he added, stressing the need for further 'open coordination'. 'It's not a matter of grey matter affecting Europe, but it is not able to obtain value from its research by turning it into jobs and growth,' concluded Mr Schwartzenberg. 'Europe must speed things up in order to meet the challenges of the innovation society...If the Europe of innovation is to become a reality, this decade must be the decade of innovation because otherwise we will never be able to catch up.' es reflect their main concerns. This is why