EUROPE: R&D targeted in recession-recovery plan

The European Union last week unveiled an anti-recession plan which includes strong spending on research and development. European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potonik, said the European Economic Recovery Plan looked beyond the "short distance" of the immediate recession and took account of the commission's longer-term plan of building Europe's future prosperity on the basis of a knowledge economy.

"We must continue to implement structural reforms, we must continue to reduce administrative burdens, and we must continue to increase investment in research. By doing this we put ourselves in shape to ride the wave of growth when the upturn happens - as we saw Finland do in the 1990s, and as we have seen Japan, the US and Korea do in the past."

Potonik said the recovery plan proposed three major public-private partnerships expected to be worth more than EUR7 billion (US$8.8 billion). The biggest was a EUR5 billion "green cars initiative" with funding for technology and infrastructure development, as well as reduced registration and circulation taxes, procurement networks for clean public vehicles and a framework of regulations and standards.

The plan also had a EUR1 billion energy-efficient buildings initiative promoting development and installation of green technologies and energy-efficient materials in new and renovated buildings, and a EUR1.2 billion "factories of the future" initiative to boost application of enabling technologies of the future by EU manufacturers.

The recovery plan also called on member states to increase investment in R&D and education, and to target money to support innovation in manufacturing, particularly in the automobile and construction sectors which had been hard hit in their order books but had phenomenal potential if they could adapt and commercialise new knowledge quickly, Potonik said.

Overall, Potonik said, the recovery plan set out a series of "smart actions", designed to orient member states' activities during the "down-time" of the recession towards building a knowledge economy and a low carbon economy.

"If we have to boost demand now, let's do it in the innovative markets of the future - clean energy, green products and services, broadband - and let's take care of the supply side too."

He noted that the EU aimed to spend 3% of its GDP on R&D by 2010 but even if that was achieved more work was needed to ensure "freedom of movement of knowledge" within the EU.

"We must create a European Research Area to break down obstacles to the movement of knowledge; to open up European research, to make it more innovative, and more plugged into our entrepreneurial economy," he said.

The ERA would enable researchers and knowledge workers to move across borders and between disciplines; ease cooperation between businesses, research institutes and universities across Europe; and achieve smooth transfer of know-how and expertise that would keep the European Union competitive in the face of globalisation.