Welcome to the Innovation Union

What Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn released today should not be seen as business as usual to innovation in Europe, but exactly the opposite. The new flagship of the Europe 2020 strategy is a strong signal by the Commission to challenge the way research and development (R&D) is done  and an injection of new excitement to put us in Europe on the global and competitive stage.

Not that today’s R&D machine is broken. There is a lot we do in research that works and produces great things across the EU, including in our own labs, thanks to a positive environment built by government, academia and private sector alike. But the challenges Europe faces and the risks of falling behind globally must be recognized, demanding new creative thinking and policies. I believe the Commission is ready to do this.

The Commissioner’s innovation plan will gain support from private industry not only here in Europe but will be a clarion call from across the globe. Let me explain why.

The first message is the importance of investment in Europe. This means finding new mechanisms to attract investment. It will be a challenge to find the right mix of policy and incentives to reverse the flow of private capital back into the EU. This should include investment and pension funds that are traditionally risk adverse to be given the confidence to slightly increase their investment threshold a little higher, improving capital flow to innovative companies. As those companies succeed the capital will flow back through jobs and taxable revenue.

Another incentive is to give everyone in academia and the private sector the confidence to share their intellectual property openly to advance research but be assured that years of time and millions of euros invested will be rewarded through strong intellectual property rights. At the same time, those rights should not become a barrier to young innovators and high-tech SMEs and the Innovation Union plan rightly urges the EU to move towards a harmonised, high-quality and affordable patent. We have waited for over 30 years for an affordable European patent system.

The plan also has a focus to remove major barriers from getting the ideas from the lab to the market place at an accelerated pace. This cannot be done by the Commission alone and all members states will need to answer the call and embrace change.

The last area that excited me was the focus on skills. New challenges means new skills, end of discussion. How can we compete with India and China if our kids prefer football than maths? This means education reform to inspire the ‘Einsteins’ of tomorrow and pushing the existing skills of the European population as a whole across the social spectrum several notches higher. If we do this right new skills can also pull millions out of poverty and provide the creation of new jobs.

Finally, I encourage everyone to support but also to look out of Europe as well. We should not close our doors to new ideas and thinking happening across the globe. We should look at what is working and see where and how we can adopt new ideas.

Do not misinterpret my words. Do not think this will be easy because clearly looking at the challenges it will not.  But think it is necessary.

Many of these challenges will demand courage and risk taking. But the private sector, European governments and academia all have an important stake for the Commission to succeed. As if we were all tied together trying to cross a bridge over a large and deep ravine should we push each other off or help us all to get across?

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