Innovation communication is 'a step in right direction' - ESC opinion
The European Commission's communication on innovation has been 'warmly welcomed' by the European economic and social committee (ESC), but further resources should be dedicated to the 'ambitious' communication. These remarks feature in the ESC's comments on the communication, which it adopted by a very large majority on 12 July. 'The ESC is of the opinion that the Commission's communication to the Council and the European Parliament 'Innovation in a knowledge driven economy' is a step in the right direction,' says the ESC opinion. But it is quick to highlight areas where it feels additions and clarifications could be made. It claims that the five objectives set out in the communication are 'appropriate, though possibly rather ambitious'. This has led the ESC to focus on the need to look at the resources that have been allocated to realising the aims and 'urges the Council to ensure that sufficient financing is made available'. It also points to the forthcoming Sixth Framework programme as an area where a real focus on innovation should be brought to bear. The five objectives of the original communication were dealt with individually by the ESC opinion. These were coherence innovation policies; a regulatory framework conducive to innovation; encouraging the creation and growth of innovative enterprises; improving key interfaces in the innovation system and a society open to innovation. The ESC believes that coherence of innovation policies is fundamental and that these policies should be benchmarked. It suggests that the Commission could draw up a plan to make all the national innovation programmes of the Member States accessible to all EU operators and companies. It also recommends the harmonisation of national and European innovation programmes. More and faster action is required from Member States to implement a 'regulatory framework conducive to innovation' according to the ESC. It particularly recommends the application of tax measures and encouragement of private investment in research and development and innovation. In particular, the ESC would like to see a high level of communication between SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), universities and research centres in Member States, and calls on the Commission to reduce 'bureaucratic obstacles blocking access to scientific programmes'. The ESC claims that the communication's third objective, that of encouraging the creation and growth of innovative enterprises, is the 'most important for the Union'. It pinpoints the lack of venture capital available in Europe compared to the USA. 'In the ESC's view, there is no appropriate funding framework to provide backing for innovative new companies or start-ups. There is no European-level mechanism organised whatsoever for the generation of venture or seed capital.' It therefore calls for the Commission to devise a plan for attracting and channelling venture capital (in conjunction with the European investment bank) and to promote research into ways of removing restrictions on funding from research and innovation programmes. It would also like to see the Commission establish a European forum for licenses and innovations. On the human resources side of the argument, the opinion points out that the USA's superior position is not attributable to superior education, but rather to superior organisation of centres of excellence. And that there is still insufficient attraction of top level innovators to Europe, especially from the most innovative countries, Japan and USA. Mobility of knowledge and its transfer between sectors and locations is still blocked by insufficient coordination, the ESC claims. It urges the Commission to benchmark this activity, but endorses the measures set out in the communication. On 'a society open to innovation', the ESC agrees that the media has a key role to play in growing awareness of innovation's importance, but it requests more details on how this will be achieved. It also points out that teachers are another key source of improving awareness, and at an earlier stage, and calls for training of teachers to help them improve in this respect. Further effort is required in addressing the problems associated with patenting in Europe. Apart from the lack of European patent, the ESC also highlights the differing interests of the academic community and enterprise: 'the former prefers immediate publicity as this process brings prestige and is a criterion for career advancement. The latter does not want to publish at least until the discovery has been protected by intellectual property rights,' it says, adding that a 'novelty grace period' should be instituted to address this problem. While endorsing the communication's five aims, and recognising the 'innovation deficit' in Europe described by the communication, the ESC felt that encouraging innovation in Europe could be summed up in four key principles. These are information on innovation; a broad awareness of innovation's value; a functional organisational and regulatory environment; and coordination of activities at national and cross-sectoral level. 'The communication cannot achieve the strategic objectives set in this respect as it stands, or even with the improvements proposed by the ESC in this opinion, It can, however, contribute to the development of these strategies as part of an overall drive in this direction,' the opinion concludes.