ERCIM News No.44 - January 2001 [contents]

Elly Plooij-van GorselKeynote

by Elly Plooij-van Gorsel

European scientists should have access to national programmes in other member states. This is needed with a view to greater coherence in European research policy. Although no concrete target figures have been agreed, the political will to achieve this has been voiced by the ministers of research and technology policy in the member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament. But more is required for the transition to the knowledge economy to be successfully achieved.

At present, it cannot be said that a uniform European research policy exists. Research policy of the member states and of the Union are conducted alongside one another, without constituting a coherent whole. Apart from the fragmentation of efforts, isolation and compartmentalisation in national research systems, European member states invest significantly less in research than the United States and Japan. These two factors mean that the Union has simply come to lag further behind the United States in recent years.

As a result, the European research climate is declining rapidly. Research in Europe clearly needs a fresh boost.

If the European Union is to invest in greater competitiveness and employment, a broader and more innovative approach is required than has been the case to date. European member states should abandon their techno-nationalism and make greater efforts to achieve a European Union, at the research and technology level as well.

The forthcoming enlargement of the Union makes this all the more necessary. The Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development is a very useful instrument in fostering international collaboration, but is has been found that this programme alone is insufficient to improve the collective European research endeavours. More is required to actually arrive at a European internal market for research.

The move made by Euro-Commissioner Busquin to create a single European Research Area is something I very much welcome, speaking as rapporteur on the subject on behalf of the European Parliament. In the Guidelines for EU research activities (2000-2006), the Commission focuses primarily on optimising the infrastructure, by such means as linking up Centres of Excellence in a network and establishing virtual centres. ERCIM is a good example. But a European Research Area requires more than simple measures at the infrastructure level. Infrastructures do not innovate, nor do electronic networks, although they must be in place. A European research area can only come about if in addition to an advanced infrastructure there is also a European identity and a European creativity. That means that member states must come to see each other much more as partners rather than competitors. Opening up one another’s national programmes is a step in the right direction.

But more is called for. Innovations have led to society changing from an industrial society into a knowledge society. It is clear that in future further development of this knowledge society lies in prospect. That requires ongoing investment in education, training, but also investment paving the way for scientific breakthroughs. The rapid technological progress in the ICT sector is a major catalyst in this respect.

Better coordination between the development of new technologies and applications in the market is called for. Europe does not have any problem in converting Euros into research; what is troublesome is converting research into Euros. Marketing, or adding knowledge to a product, appears to be more successful in the United States than in Europe. Increasing knowledge is not an objective in itself. Converting that knowledge into innovation and industrial success is what we need to aim at. This is what creates employment and prosperity. I would like to make my contribution from the European context and I am looking forward to any comments you may wish to make.