EUROPE: Plan for one million new research jobs

European Union Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is planning to create one million jobs in research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the next seven-year research programme.

The announcement came as a new report revealed that Europe's investment in research and innovation has been outstripped by its competitors - including the US, Japan, Russia, China, and India - since the mid-1990s.

On 29 June the commissioner announced a proposal to increase funding for research and innovation by 46% in 2014-20, an addition compared to the current seven-year programme and an increase to EUR80.2 billion (US$116 billion).

Geoghegan-Quinn said the rise in funding would put the research and innovation portfolio at the heart of the EU's pro-jobs agenda, and was estimated to create nearly one million jobs.

"This is an anti-crisis budget, a pro-jobs budget and a budget for tackling our biggest challenges - things like climate change, energy and food security, health and our ageing population. It's a pro-growth budget and more growth means less austerity for less long."

She said funding would be available for research institutions, universities, innovative private companies and small and medium enterprises.

"All sectors of the European economy will benefit," she added. "To list just a few: agriculture, fisheries and food, health, transport, energy (especially renewables), and information and communication technologies."

The proposal, if agreed, could have a significant knock-on effect, since member countries are supposed to align their national research budgets more to Horizon 2020, than has been the case for previous research programmes, notably through joint programming now being built up by the member states and the European Commission in collaboration and co-financing.

The scale of the challenge facing the EU was revealed by the Innovative Union Competitiveness Report 2011, which found that between 1995 and 2008 there was zero growth in total research investment in EU member states.

During the same period the US increased its total research investment by 60%; Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan by 75%; Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa by 145%; China by 855%; and the rest of the world by 100%.

On current trends, the report said: "China is set to overtake the EU by 2014 in terms of volume of R&D expenditure."

The IUC report found that EU under-investment in R&D was most visible in the business sector. Since 2000, R&D intensity in China has been growing 30 times more quickly than in Europe, to 1.12% of gross national product (GNP) in 2008.

Measured by number of researchers, Europe scores high. In 2008, there were 1.5 million full time researchers in the EU, compared to 1.4 million in the US and 0.71 million in Japan. However, in absolute terms, China has taken the world lead with 1.6 million researchers in 2008.

The EU will need to create at least one million new research jobs if it is to reach the target of 3% of GNP research intensity by 2020, the report said.

It found that the European private sector was in need of a significant increase in researchers, since more than half (54%) of researchers in the EU work in the public sector, and nearly 46% in the business sector. This compares with 69% in China, 73% in Japan and 80% in the United States.

With 111,000 new doctorates awarded every year, the EU produces nearly twice as many doctoral graduates as the United States. But in 2008 only 7% of doctoral candidates in the EU were studying in another member state. Of established researchers, 56% had worked for at least three months in another country during their career.

The commissioner said she had earmarked EUR4.5 billion for agri-food research. "That will boost agriculture and food production and make the rural economy greener and more competitive," she explained.

The proposed increase in funding has yet to be agreed by the European Parliament and European Council. A decision is expected after the details of the spending are set out in the legislative proposal for Horizon 2020 later this year.

Earlier, Geoghegan-Quinn spoke at a conference in Brussels closing the consultation on the Common Strategic Framework for Future EU Research and Innovation.

The framework is based on a huge response to the commission's Green Paper on Innovation. More than 2,000 responses, including 775 position papers from stakeholders, were received. There were 90,000 visits to the consultation website from visitors in 152 countries, and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology linked the consultation green paper to its main web page.

Geoghegan-Quinn said the responses endorsed the process of a framework, requested a radical simplification in EU research bureaucracy, called for maintenance and continuity in the instruments used, notably the European Research Council and Marie Curie Fellowships, and called for more flexibility in funding opportunities.