[Check Against Delivery]
European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Keynote speech to the WIRE V Conference
WIRE V Conference
Athens, 12 June 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I wish to congratulate the Hellenic Presidency for organising this fifth edition of the Week of Innovative Regions in Europe, following on from Granada in 2010, Debrecen in 2011, Krakow in 2012 and Cork last year.
WIRE I in Granada in March 2010 was one of the first major policy events in which I participated as Commissioner, so I remember it well!
The successive conferences have given me the opportunity to take stock of ongoing developments in the important relationship between research and innovation and cohesion policies.
In 2010 we were just beginning to set the framework for the future of these policies.
By 2011, the cohesion regulations and Horizon 2020 were being drafted. By 2012 they had been adopted by the Commission and were under discussion with the Member States.
Those discussions were completed in 2013 and now, in 2014, the first calls for proposals under Horizon 2020 have already been launched – indeed, some are already being evaluated – while the cohesion programming documents are being submitted and adopted.
WIRE V builds on the work of these earlier conferences by focusing on the concept of smart specialisation and on a policy agenda that is very much results-oriented.
The three broad themes of this conference – European funding and smart specialisation for 2014-2020; business driven regional innovation and the use of open data and knowledge to drive scientific excellence – provide rich possibilities for debate and analysis, as is shown in the detailed programme for the next two days.
Smart specialisation is at the heart of WIRE V and with good reason.
In Granada in 2010, everyone was wondering about this new idea and what it would mean.
Things have moved quickly in just four years.
Now, future cohesion support for research and innovation is conditional on having a smart specialisation strategy in place. And more broadly speaking, such a strategy should also be the broad framework in which to pursue ‘smart growth’
I welcome the fact that many Member States, through the process of self-assessment, are reporting the existence of smart specialisation strategies, at national or regional level.
Nevertheless, I also know that other Member States and regions have not yet made the necessary progress and may need to submit action plans for later completion of their strategies.
Whatever your situation, I would urge that all strategies be put in place as soon as possible. Smart specialisation is now an essential, if not the essential tool in the successful planning and implementation of support for research and innovation.
As I said at WIRE IV, there is no denying that we have a considerable research and innovation divide in Europe – a divide that remains despite our best efforts.
There are several reasons for these disparities, mostly related to structural deficits such as lack of research investment, insufficient capacity-building, the structure of a country’s industries and the profile of its companies, as well as lack of access to international networks.
Cohesion policy has a crucial role to play in tackling this divide through capacity building. And a smart specialisation strategy can act as the blueprint.
Today’s discussion on Regional Innovation and European Growth couldn’t be more timely.
The Annual Growth Survey 2014 confirmed that, after five years of financial and economic crisis, the first signs of a slow recovery are starting to appear in Europe.
While we seem to have reached a turning point in the crisis, the recovery is still modest and very fragile, so these positive signs should not make us complacent, they should encourage us to take further measures to secure a lasting and sustainable recovery.
I think it is safe to say that we are all agreed – whether researchers, business people, policy makers or civil society – that research and innovation drives sustainable growth and jobs.
So if Europe is to re-take the path to a strong and lasting recovery, it will have to place its bets on research and innovation.
Since we last met at WIRE IV in Cork last year, the EU has launched new programmes for research and innovation and for cohesion.
Horizon 2020 couples research and innovation by focusing on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges, while the European Structural and Investment Funds are designed to ensure that this knowledge can be absorbed and used effectively.
Combining these two sources of funding could significantly increase their impact, which is why we have made sure that the two programmes are mutually compatible and mutually supporting.
Research and innovation is also taking an increasingly prominent place in the broader EU policy framework, and in particular the European Semester. I am therefore particularly pleased that, for the 2014 Semester, Country Specific Recommendations relating to research and innovation have been proposed by the Commission for 15 Member States, the highest number so far.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’d now like to bring you right up to date with some news that’s hot off the press!
Two days ago I launched, together with Vice President Olli Rehn, a Communication on Research and Innovation as Sources of Renewed Growth.
One of the thorniest issues we have to face is how we square the circle of investing more in research and innovation in times of fiscal consolidation, when public budgets are under greatest pressure.
The very clear message from the Communication is to prioritise and to reform.
The Communication underlines the importance of investing in research and innovation in order to allow Europe to capture new growth opportunities.
In recent years, we have seen that continued investment in the sources of jobs and growth is paying off in several Member States and in the transformation of economies like South Korea and China.
And this is also what the EU did last year when it agreed its new seven-year budget. While the overall budget envelope was reduced, there is a decisive shift towards research and innovation, with Horizon 2020 seeing a 30% real terms increase in finance.
However, maintaining or increasing investment will only be most effective when they go hand in hand with measures to increase their quality.
We need far-reaching reforms of research and innovation systems in order to increase the quality and efficiency of public expenditure in these areas.
I have no illusions about how difficult this can be, having steered through the major reform of Horizon 2020 to be simpler and to achieve greater impact.
Our new proposals will support governments to make the necessary reforms to their own research and innovation systems.
And reform of Member States’ research and innovation systems will also encourage businesses to invest more in R&D and innovation. Many businesses look globally when they invest in research and innovation. So Europe, the Member States and regions must be able to put forward an attractive proposition.
Progress at European level, for example on the European patent, remains essential, so we will continue to implement the innovation-friendly measures championed by the Innovation Union initiative.
Alongside these framework conditions, there is the potential for smart investments by the public sector to leverage private investment.
Improvements in the quality and efficiency of public spending can help create a ‘virtuous circle’, by leveraging higher investment levels from the private sector and generating increasing economic returns.
No government can fund world class science and innovation in all areas, and so each country and region must take tough decisions to prioritise their research and innovation budget in the areas where it will produce the greatest impacts.
This brings us back to smart specialisation.
Here, European regions have a strong role to play: by identifying the most promising growth opportunities, they can reprioritise action and investments, build innovation frameworks and direct us towards solutions that foster growth and jobs. Regions can also profit from systemic learning and the exchange of good practice on smart specialisation.
I have a feeling that this new Communication will provide many ideas to discuss at a future WIRE conference.
In conclusion, let me once again express my gratitude to the Hellenic Presidency, including Georgia Tzenou of the National Documentation Centre and her team, as well as to my services in the directorate General for Research and Innovation, for organising this event.
As ever, I very much look forward to hearing concrete recommendations from your deliberations that can help us increase the impact of research and innovation across the EU at every level.
I would therefore like to wish all the participants a very enjoyable and productive conference.