High Level Group says EU must double research budget

A group of experts selected by the European Commission to recommend what changes to make to the current European Union research programme Horizon 2020 when it ends in three years' time, has called for a doubling of the budget and for it to pay more attention to the gap between science and innovation.

The report of the High Level Group on Maximising the Impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes comes a week after European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen called for a 50% increase in the budget to €120 billion (US$136 billion).

Beyond calling for more money to be spent on research, the High Level Group’s key message is that Europe does not capitalise enough on the knowledge it has produced, despite punching above its weight in science.

Europe is a “global scientific powerhouse”, it says. Having 7% of the world’s population, it generates 24% of global gross domestic product or GDP and produces around 30% of the world’s scientific publications. But Europe suffers from a growth deficit. At the heart of this lies an innovation deficit, the group says. Put simply, Europe does not capitalise enough on the knowledge it has and produces.

The group is chaired by Pascal Lamy, president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute and former head of the World Trade Organization and former European Commissioner for Trade. He said doubling the budget was a “big increase” but was “necessary with where the world is going”.

The report illustrates how the EU trails well behind many trading partners when it comes to innovation, for example, spending less than half as much on business research and development as a share of GDP than South Korea, and producing three times fewer quality patent applications than Japan.

Lamy said the gap in Europe between “what we produce in science and what we produce in innovation [new products and services]” is too large and “too much of a drag on future European growth so a big effort must be made, not only in turning money into science, but in turning science into money”.

In an interview for Horizon: The EU Research and Innovation Magazine, Lamy said in the article released on 3 July: “It is a well-known fact that we must invest more in research and innovation because we are moving to an economy that is more and more dematerialised where brain juice and talent will be the main resource.

“That is something we know, but we have a problem with speed because other countries like the US, China, Japan and Korea are investing more than we do. We have to catch up,” he said.


Aside from doubling the budget post-2020 and prioritising research in national budgets, the group made another 10 recommendations:
  • • Build a true EU innovation policy that fosters innovation ecosystems for researchers, innovators, industries and governments; and promote and invest in innovative ideas with rapid scale-up potential through a European Innovation Council.

  • • Modernise, reward and fund the education and training of people who will develop a creative and innovative Europe.

  • • Design the EU research and innovation programme for greater impact, particularly by fine tuning proposal evaluation systems and increasing flexibility.

  • • Set research and innovation missions that address global challenges and mobilise researchers, innovators and other stakeholders to realise them.

  • • Streamline the EU funding landscape and achieve synergy with structural funds.

  • • In funding, privilege impact over process.

  • • Mobilise and involve citizens by encouraging their involvement in co-design and co-creation.

  • • Better align EU and national research and innovation.

  • • Make international research and innovation cooperation a trademark of EU research and innovation.

  • • Capture and better communicate impact.
The report – bizarrely titled LAB-FAB-APP, a condensation of laboratories, innovation fabrication and applications – carries weight due to Lamy’s stature and that of the High Level Group, which includes 12 leading figures from research, industry and finance.

Among the group is Mark Ferguson, director-general of the Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland, and Lykke Friis, pro-rector for education at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, who set up the High Level Group, welcomed the report.

“We have to seek a new basis for the next framework research programme,” he said.

“The major message is that we can be the first in the world to follow the inclinations of the scientists, and I fully endorse the vision that what we now need is evolution, not revolution.”

He praised the report for being short and concise and straight to the point and something he could confidently hand to his mother to understand.

“What we now need is a public engagement for science and innovation,” Moedas said. “A central point in the High Level Group’s report is how to reach out with EU science initiatives so that citizens can understand. We can and we will do great things.”

High Level Group member Mark Ferguson said: “We are all facing the same challenges: climate change, ageing populations, food security and cybersecurity being just a few examples. Science, technology and engineering will be core to solutions, and will generate benefits for citizens across the EU. These issues impact directly on the lives of people, so the report highlights engagement with citizens as a key goal for European research policy.”

He said doubling the EU research and innovation budget post-2020 and significantly increasing national spending could make Europe a “global innovation leader”.

Universities seek clarity

The League of European Research Universities or LERU said the report was thought-provoking and included some novel ideas that needed unpacking. It hopes the report will foster a broader discussion on the future of research policy in Europe.

But it asked for clarity on what incentives the new framework programme, the Ninth Framework Programme or FP9, should provide for the modernisation of universities and warned against mission drift.

LERU also advised against a recommendation that the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Knowledge and Innovation Communities should be directly incorporated into FP9. LERU would be against the Knowledge and Innovation Communities receiving direct funding streams from a global challenges programme, for example.

Professor Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of LERU, said: “The report contains many good ideas and interesting suggestions. Unfortunately, it is not very focused and some ideas are unclear.”

Science Europe, a Brussels-based association of European research funding and research performing organisations, stressed that examples of Horizon 2020’s clear European added value included the European Research Council’s role in fostering Europe-wide competition, the support of research infrastructures as a fundamental part of the European research system, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, fostering mobility for the benefits of researchers’ careers in a smooth way, and the support of collaborative research to solve societal challenges that cannot be addressed purely with national efforts.

Rafael Rodriguez-Clemente of CSIC, the Spanish council for scientific research based in Barcelona, told University World News he was worried by the relative marginalisation of fundamental research driven simply by curiosity, which used to be the basis of most technological developments.

“The actual challenges of Europe and the world on climate change, demographic pressure, unwanted migration and quality of jobs can only be based on sound scientific knowledge to provide a sustainable framework for economic and social development, instead of Trumpism...,” he said.

Massimo Busuoli, head of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Brussels Office, told University World News that the call for better alignment between national and EU funds is a long-term battle “still not won but in an improving phase”. He said the driving principle behind all changes should remain “excellence”.

The High Level Group’s other members are:

  • • Martin Brudermüller, vice-chairman of the board of executive directors and chief technology officer, BASF SE;
  • • Cristina Garmendia, chair, Fundación Cotec;
  • • Iain Gray, director of Aerospace, Cranfield University;
  • • Jan Gulliksen, professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm;
  • • Harri Kulmala, CEO of DIMECC Ltd, Tampere;
  • • Nevenka Maher, former dean, Faculty of Business and Management Sciences Novo mesto;
  • • Maya Plentz Fagundes, managing director, 50More Ventures;
  • • Lucyna A Wozniak, vice-rector for science and international relations, Medical University of Lódz; and
  • • Milena Žic Fuchs, professor, University of Zagreb and fellow, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.