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No knowledge, no future, says Potocnik

If the EU wants to build sustainable leadership, it must exploit the knowledge triangle of creation, transmission and use through research, education and innovation, says Janez Potocnik, EU Commissioner for Science and Research. Speaking on 'the future of R&D [research and d...

If the EU wants to build sustainable leadership, it must exploit the knowledge triangle of creation, transmission and use through research, education and innovation, says Janez Potocnik, EU Commissioner for Science and Research. Speaking on 'the future of R&D [research and development] as a factor for European Competitiveness' on 2 February, Mr Potocnik explained that the EU aims to achieve leadership and competitiveness through a Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) geared towards levering knowledge for growth, and more focused on the needs of industry and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); new migration policies for attracting knowledge workers; a revised Community framework for state aid for R&D and fiscal incentives for R&D. 'The emerging markets on which our companies have to compete are increasingly global and increasingly technology-intensive. Armed with knowledge, we can make the difference in terms of new and better products, services and processes. A particular weakness of the European economy, taken as a whole, is that it invests too little in R&D. And it is relatively specialised in middle to low-tech sectors,' said Mr Potocnik. 'Making Europe fit for the markets of the future will involve a structural change towards higher technology and value contents within sectors, and an even greater change across sectors towards the higher-tech,' added the Commissioner. In order to develop appropriate framework conditions for doing research in Europe, the Commission will adopt a fully revised Community framework for state aid for R&D more favourable to initiatives supporting business research efforts, said Mr Potocnik. Fiscal incentives, which are gaining in popularity among Member States, will be proposed, as well as measures relating to the recruitment, career and mobility of researchers; the role of foundations in R&D funding; the role of cross-border public procurement in stimulating innovation; and cooperation and technology transfer between public research and industry. Referring to the Council's near adoption of a directive on visas for researchers from third countries, Mr Potocnik called for a dedicated and flexible migration policy for attracting the best talent from across the world. Building the Europe of knowledge requires resources, insisted the Commissioner, stating that the Commission's proposed doubling of research funding in the next financial perspective from five billion euro to ten billion euro a year is essential for many reasons. 'Firstly,' said Mr Potocnik,' to show that we understand what the problem is today and where the opportunities lie for tomorrow. [...] Secondly, to be consistent with the commitments already taken, for example on the three per cent target. It would be hard to explain that the EU is asking its Member States to invest more in research, without doing so itself. And thirdly, to reinforce existing actions and carry out new ones that are best done at European level, be it to have our best researchers work together with a critical mass of resources and to have them compete for excellence, be it to build the new research infrastructures of the future that go beyond the reach of single Member States, or be it to set up large public-private partnerships to develop and deploy key technologies like hydrogen or nano-electronics,' he concluded. In FP7, collaborative projects should be even further geared towards the needs of industry than they were in FP6, believes Mr Potocnik. He also sees the Joint European Technology Initiatives as champions for knowledge for growth. The three key factors to keep businesses in Europe are the excellence of the public research base, science and technology infrastructure and human resources, said Mr Potocnik. He added that these are the main issues on which FP7 will focus. Excellence in the research base will be promoted through the new European Research Council for basic research; infrastructures will be developed through a strengthened infrastructures programme, targeting, among others, equipment of industrial relevance, while the training and career development of researchers will be supported through a further enhanced 'Marie Curie' scheme, explained the Commissioner. Furthermore, he added, 'the convergence of national research programmes will be enhanced through a reinforced scheme of support for their coordination, the so-called 'ERA-Net' scheme. 'Some of our trading partners are competing with primary resources, which we do not have. Some compete with cheap labour, which we do not want. Some compete on the back of their environment, which we cannot accept,' said Mr Potocnik. 'Building the knowledge society is probably the best, and maybe only, way to sustain the European model of society, without having to make a trade-off between economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection,' the Commissioner concluded.