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Scoreboard dampens hopes of rapid improvement in EU innovation performance

The innovation gap between the EU and the US will not be closed before 2010 if the present rate of progress continues, according to new figures contained in the Commission's European innovation scoreboard for 2003. Published on 27 November by the Commission's DG Enterprise, ...

The innovation gap between the EU and the US will not be closed before 2010 if the present rate of progress continues, according to new figures contained in the Commission's European innovation scoreboard for 2003. Published on 27 November by the Commission's DG Enterprise, the scoreboard is a benchmarking instrument that forms part of the EU's strategy to become the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. Although the 2002 scoreboard sent the moderately optimistic message that 'the EU may be catching up with its competitors', this year's report offers a less positive picture. Key comparisons reveal that Europe is making progress in just three of the 11 areas that were selected as indicators of EU and US innovation performance. Regarding patents, for example, the US is submitting more applications in Europe than Europeans are themselves. Meanwhile, the state of European high tech patenting in the US is judged to be 'extremely weak'. Although the future implementation of a European patent will improve this situation, the report states that this may not be sufficient to overcome the underlying patenting weakness in many Member States. Commenting on the patent issue, Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said: 'This weakness could justify a concerted EU effort to support European inventors with patenting their inventions in Europe and, even more importantly, in the US.' On a more encouraging note, Europe has halved the EU/US gap in ICT expenditure since 1996 and has also increased its share of 'value added' manufacturing in the high-tech sectors. Although a new and widening gap with the US has appeared in public investment in research and development (R&D) since 2001, European business investment in R&D shows some signs of recovery. The EU remains ahead of the US with regard to the number of its graduates in sciences and technology, although this lead might soon come under threat, according to the report. Although Europe as a whole lags behind the United States, leading EU countries are ranked ahead of the US and Japan for seven key indicators of innovation. The performance of Sweden exceeds that of both the US and Japan, while Finland also outperforms the US and is roughly equivalent to Japan. Europe's most innovative regions are found in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany. The southern Member States of Greece, Portugal and Spain continue to catch up with the rest of the EU. The same is true of the accession countries, as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia are actually ranked higher than some of the existing EU 15. Although most accession countries show a stronger growth performance than the EU average, a large part of this growth is due to the fact that they are improving from very low starting points. The report suggests, therefore, that positive trends among the accession countries may not be sustainable for much longer.