Column Paul de Krom: 'Europe needs strong innovation ecosystems'

23 September 2015

From January 1st onwards, the Netherlands takes the limelight by taking up the EU Presidency for one semester. This will represent a perfect opportunity for the Netherlands to give its contribution to improving the future of European research and innovation policies. Europe is in urgent need of strong innovation ecosystems and effective measures to stimulate and sustain them, taking in consideration the economic and social challenges ahead. Having an ambitious R&I agenda with a matching budget would benefit European research activities and the EU as a whole.

The eighth framework programme, Horizon 2020, has a clear focus on innovation, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. The aim of the programme is closely connected to TNO’s mission: contribute to excellent science and applied research, strengthening the competitiveness of businesses and addressing the societal challenges Europe is facing. From the start of the programme in 2014 TNO has be actively involved in most parts of the programme, especially pillars two and three, with a considerable amount of proposals submitted in the first rounds of calls. We hope to continue our successful participation in FP7-projects in the Horizon 2020 programme.

I believe applied (scientific) research is an important part of the innovation chain, being the connecting factor between basic research and industrial activities. TNO’s core mission in Europe is to promote research and innovation targeted at solving grand societal and industrial challenges by which supporting sustainable growth through R&I and helping the European industrial base to exploit economic opportunities. TNO and its European RTO (Research and Technology Organisations) partners are well positioned to develop broad support to European value chains and innovation eco-systems, together with the European Commission, European industries and Member States. To create lasting impact through European cooperation, I believe that further stimulation and support for European centres of excellence are needed. Innovation is collaborative in nature, certainly from the European perspective. It is therefore crucial for TNO and other RTOs, to support and stimulate the formation of strategic alliances to achieve excellence through the complete innovation chain.

The framework programme managed by the European Commission ensures a multiplier effect on research activities and infrastructures on the national level. I believe it is therefore crucial to maintain sufficient and constructive financing of R&I on both national and European level. Horizon 2020 allows TNO to develop knowledge together with European partners and be the linking pin between the Dutch and European knowledge infrastructures. Europe needs impact delivered from national and European R&I investments. To ensure the societal impact and contribute to the challenges we face across the EU, the European framework programme needs a critical mass to support this initiative. It is also crucial for the European citizen that European funding for R&I is sustained in order to achieve impact in the long and short run. TNO as well as other RTOs are committed to ensuring that EU and national investments deliver the impact that Europe needs.

Statistics however show that, especially in the Netherlands, national investments in R&I are in decline, without a better prospect in the future. This is not in line with the official target to spend 3% of national GDP on research and innovation by 2020 (combined public and private investments). It is alarming to see that the Netherlands spends 1,98% of its GDP on R&I. In general, other European member states also lagging behind. As 2015 Eurostat statistics show, the average EU’s R&I investment is at 2,02% GDP, up against 2,39% of Australia’s GDP, 2,79% GDP in the US, 3,39% GDP in Japan and 4,04% in South Korea. This means that international R&I competition is fierce and investments in growth on a national and European level should remain a priority. The overall research budget from Horizon 2020 has risen, however year after year the annual EU budget for R&I has taken big hits. Most recently, the Council adopted a R&I budget for the year 2016 which will see an €83 million reduction in research and innovation spending from the previously planned level. The competitiveness of Europe in the R&I sector is under pressure and we need to act now.

For the next research framework programme it is important to maintain a focus on the added value of European research and innovation activities, stimulating the development of innovation ecosystems covering the entire innovation cycle. The challenge for the future lays particularly in bridging the gap between private and public investments in R&I and maintaining a sufficient level of R&I financing. TNO is happy to contribute in building a bridge towards application of research results, creating impact together with our European and international partners, in the years ahead.

Paul de Krom

Meer informatie
News release: How is the EU doing compared with the other major economies of the world?
Press article: Financieel Dagblad ‘Innovatie Nederland raakt achterop’
Biography: Paul de Krom
Website: TNO (Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research)
Website: EARTO

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