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June 01, 2011

Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 2 of 3

by Tania Rabesandratana

Welcome to Research Europe's Framework and the Innovation Union live blog from The International Auditorium in Brussels. Our second session today is Carving up the Pie.

Our speakers are Geoffrey Boulton, professor of geology and vice principal at the University of Edinburgh; Ben Butters, secretary general of Eurochambres; and Jerzy Langer, foreign secretary of Academia Europaea and former science vice minister in Poland.

Please read from the bottom up.


We're now closing session 2. We'll come back for session 3, Making Framework Work, at 16.05.


An audience member is concerned that the focus on innovation threatens social sciences and humanities research. Geoff Boulton says that the Commission's approach that consists in pushing the science base and hoping to reap economic benefits isn't going to work. Social sciences and humanities are hugely important, also in terms of social entrepreneurship. Langer adds that the European Research Council also demonstrates that these disciplines can find new funding streams.


John Smith from the European Universities Association asks why Eurochambres supports so much the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. Butters answers that a lot of the programme doesn't have to do with innovation, although parts of it could be merged with the Common Strategic Framework. Geoff Boulton adds that the participation of small businesses is also down to the whole economic tissue: if we had more big companies, small companies would do better.


We're now in the Q&A session.

Ben Butters says that only a small percentage of Eurochambres members have engaged in EU funding schemes. It will always remain a small fraction but innovation takes different forms - doing things in a different way doesn't necessarily involve funding.


Langer argues for the creation of a Research, Education and Innovation area.

In 2004 EURAB Commission advisers suggested to use money from the Cohesion budget for research and innovation.

In February 2011 the Commission's Green Paper on the Common Strategic Funding was the beginning of a revolution, Langer says. Its possible budget could be 147 billion euros.

Academia Europaea recommends setting up a European High Risk Innovation Council that would draw from existing elements of the Framework Programme. Let's not reinvent the wheel, Langer suggests.

Langer to the Commission: you are the big players and you should set the rules.


Langer says that there is almost no correlation between the percentage of their GDP countries spend on research and the return on investment in terms of EU research funding.

The Terman principle of 'narrow steeples of academic excellence' led to the success of the Silicon Valley. But excellence must be defined first and talented people must be given a chance to succeed.


On a two-speed Europe: in the EU there are whole countries that don't have networks of excellence.

Langer presents fresh results on what countries put into the Framework Programme and what they get in return. The 10 larger economies practically run the show, he says. The four largest economies take practically 60 per cent of the money. There's an enormous success of the UK in particular.


Langer quotes findings from a questionnaire sent to the network of FP7 National Contact Points:
yes, Framework is getting simpler compared to its earlier editions, but it remains more complicated than other programmes.

Major structural flaws: less than 20 per cent of FP participants come from industry, Langer notes. Also, Commission services don't work enough together.


Jerzy Langer talks about the evolution of Framework. Is it changing for the better?


Eurochambres is involved in the development of the EU late payment directive (which sets interest rates and maximum periods for payment between businesses or between businesses and public authorities).  Butters says this should be echoed by European funding schemes.

There are major discussions going on about shuffling money between different EU budget headings. Eurochambres is against merging the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme into the Common Strategic Framework. CIP should remain separate, Butters says.

Eurochambres also believes there should be a dedicated programme for SMEs in Framework, unless the Commission can promise that the whole programme will be easy to access for businesses.

To engage SMEs and meet the targets of the EU 2020 strategy, the Commission should decrease its focus on research, Butters argues.


There are 20 million businesses in Europe. All have the potential to innovate, Butters says. That process is driven by what the market will buy. Small and medium businesses are crucial in this debate.

Policy-makers have to recognise that a lot of innovation takes place without any research at all, Butters insists. We need to understand innovation as a far broader concept than just bringing research results to the market.

More fundamentally we have to change the risk-averse attitude to innovation and entrepreneurship that is prevalent in Europe.

Also, simplification is essential to increase participation, Butters argues. Some businesses have 'had their fingers burnt' in the past when applying for EU research funding. The process is so painful and lengthy that businesses think Framework applications are not worth the trouble.


Ben Butters, EU affairs director at Eurochambres talks about how Framework can serve the needs of industry.


What should be the priorities for the Common Strategic Framework from the universities' perspective? Boulton insists on simplification, excellence, and trust as guiding principles.

The Commission should ensure that the move of the Marie Curie actions from DG Research to DG Education is not a step back, Boulton warns.

To support innovation, governments should set ground rules (regulatory environment and strategic priorities); build enablers throught R&D and training.


Boulton: Of course we should prioritise - between creative and dull research. It is profoundly naive that Europe tackles issues such as climate change predominantly through natural sciences, Boulton says. Universities are best placed to contribute.


Boulton: Universities are foisted with tasks that they are ill-equipped to deliver.

Only a minor part of those trained to work as researchers build a career in university research. If we want to retain talent, we need to provide an environment that favours curiosity, independence and creativity, Boulton suggests.


Geoffrey Boulton from the University of Edinburgh opens session 2. What's the role of universities in society? What's the role of the EU in supporting universities?

Under times of economic stress, the policies imposed on universitiesare too short-sighted and focussed on immediate, measurable benefits and exploitable results, Boulton argues.

In practice many of the exploitable results come down to a push on the demand side. Innovations are driven by companies.





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