Quo vadis European research, development and innovation?
30 September 2019
This evening will see Mariya Gabriel appear in a European Parliament hearing as part of the process to secure her nomination as the future Commissioner-designate for Innovation and Youth. This is an important step on the road to installing the new European Commission for the next five-year cycle. Ahead of this hearing, I wanted to share some thoughts on the importance of research, development, and innovation (RDI) to the future of Europe – looking especially at the role of applied research, which is a high priority for us at Orgalim and the technology industries we represent.
RDI is not linear
The entire research, development and innovation ecosystem has an important role to play in creating solutions for society and citizens. Forget about Marie Curie or Louis Pasteur operating practically by themselves within their own laboratories. RDI is not linear and progress is no longer generated by one overarching ‘genius’; interactions are everywhere, collaboration is crucial.
Another important aspect is that innovation is neither a stand-alone entity nor a goal in and of itself. It cannot exist in a vacuum. An innovation is an invention that finds a market and meets the needs of another company, for example. The innovation (service or product) will enable this company to be more competitive by, say, creating a smoother production process or more sustainable logistics. Gains in innovation and competitiveness are often the result of this kind of incremental innovation – a phenomenon that rarely makes headlines but nevertheless has the potential to create and maintain employment in the fiercely competitive global environment.
Clouds over blue-sky research and development?
Under the current Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas, the focus of the last five years has been on start-ups, disruption, blue-sky research and open innovation. Orgalim supports a strong focus on these aspects; however, development – i.e. applied research – although it was well-funded, wasn’t that much in the spotlight.
Coming back then to today’s hearing of Commissioner-designate Gabriel: it is striking that the title proposed for her new portfolio is ‘Innovation and Youth’ – this could lead to the conclusion that not only the word ‘development’ but also ‘research’ is no longer making the headlines.
A call to action
The EU must be more vocal about development (applied research), in particular for industry. The Mission Letter sent to Commissioner-designate Gabriel from the future Commission President Ursula von der Leyen does talk about research, but lacks any strong focus on development. Does the Commission want to create a new ‘valley of death’ – the chasm between basic research and successful market innovations? Or even a situation where the EU is seen as a strong player only in blue sky research? I received some reassurance on while attending the European Commission’s R&I Days conference last week, where Director-General for Research and Innovation, Jean-Eric Paquet, did mention applied research along with innovation and fundamental research.
At the same time, broader calls to further bolster Europe’s strong industrial base indicate that it is probably not the intention to focus solely on innovation. The excellent ecosystem that exists around academia, research and technology organisations (RTO) and industry is a crucial element that further enables the competitiveness of European industry. Industrial policy is at the forefront of the new EU political agenda – representing a crucial element of the hearing of another Commissioner-designate, Sylvie Goulard for the Internal Market (a topic for a future blog post). There is, therefore, an urgent need to reflect the support for applied research as a political priority.
To that end, we at Orgalim will be hoping to hear Commissioner-designate Gabriel confirm this in her hearing – and to see a strong statement of support for Horizon Europe, its budget, and particularly the funding of Pillar II (see our Joint Statement for more on this).
Orgalim is looking forward to working with the new Commissioner to ensure Europe creates a level-playing field for all companies, both those emerging now (or in the future), and those who have been around for centuries. Improving RDI ecosystems as a whole and working on collaborative projects across fields and expertise will benefit everyone in the RDI value ecosystem.
Today’s hearing will provide a good barometer of the Commission’s views for the next five years.