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Remove obstacles and simplify, say EU ministers

Research, development and innovation can drive a new European economy when obstacles, such as fragmentation, unnecessary competition between EU countries, patent flaws and researcher shortage, are identified and removed. This was one of several important messages delivered by ...

Research, development and innovation can drive a new European economy when obstacles, such as fragmentation, unnecessary competition between EU countries, patent flaws and researcher shortage, are identified and removed. This was one of several important messages delivered by research and industry leaders at the informal meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council held on 15 and 16 July 2010 under the auspices of the Belgian Presidency. The meeting fortified support for the Research and Innovation Plan, which will officially be presented by Commissioner for Research and Innovation Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in September this year. The need to simplify the EU's research funding procedures in order to revitalise flagging participation from industry (particularly the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector) was another key topic on the agenda. The European ministers recognised the need to strike the right balance between maintaining the integrity of public funds management and projecting confidence in the abilities and vision of Europe's scientific community. As Belgium's Minister of Scientific Research Benoît Cerexhe said, 'Simplification is one of the ways to strengthen the trust we place in our researchers'. The ministers agreed that the readability, coherence and stability of rules should be simplified. They also agreed that an appropriate definition of 'research results' was absolutely necessary, and must be developed in agreement with both funding operators and funding beneficiaries. A definition that is too narrow in its focus, for instance, could trigger a bias for funding projects with less risk, and overlook those that may have a more uncertain outlook but could provide significant research breakthroughs. It is for this reason that the transition from a cost-focus to a results-focus funding perspective needs to be approached with great caution, the ministers said. They stressed the need for scientific excellence to remain the main criterion in evaluating projects. Additionally, the ministers discussed the possibility of introducing 'lump sums' in research funding, expressed their preference for reducing the number of existing European instruments, stressed the need for greater coordination between industry and research policies, and reached a consensus on several European Commission proposals that could be adopted in the short term without the need to modify existing rules (e.g. increasing the tolerable risk of error from 2% to 3.5%). The meeting was also an opportunity for the ministers to discuss a series of proposals linked to the forthcoming Research and Innovation Plan. This included the development of a programme for funding high-risk projects, support mechanisms for eco-innovation, the creation of a venture capital fund for investing in young innovative enterprises, and the promotion of financial incentives and best practice. In order for the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy to be realised, the ministers agreed that shorter paths need to be forged between research and the market through SMEs. Investment in research, development and innovation was also acknowledged as being essential to the livelihood of Europe's future generations.

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