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ERCIM News No.49, April 2002
Commissioner Philippe Busquin
Philippe Busquin,
Commissioner for Research

European Research Area – and Beyond

At the Lisbon summit in 2000 Heads of State and of Governments adopted a new strategic objective for the European Union for the next decade, which is to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

At the same time it was clear that such an ambitious objective would only be achieved if the Union were to undertake major initiatives. In this context the Commission has proposed measures to make Europe much more active and attractive in the field of research, new technologies and innovation.

When I became Research Commissioner, just over two years ago, I proposed that research should be recognised as a vital area of Union policy. This was accepted and in Lisbon the highest EU representatives endorsed the creation of a European Research Area.

As a result, there is a new awareness that the knowledge-based society requires a much more pro-active, coherent and encompassing vision of the way Europeans manage research. At Union level, research needs a consistent policy with structured, forward-looking objectives.

The Sixth Framework Programme 2002-2006 was consequently designed above all to be a structuring instrument for realising the European Research Area. As a result it features two major innovations.

The first one is that concentration on a few priorities (such as genomics, information society and sustainable development) has been accepted as a key principle to achieve a critical mass of finance and knowledge.

The second important change concerns new implementing instruments, namely networks of excellence and integrated projects of a much larger order of magnitude than current Community research projects, and the possibility of providing European support for joint research initiatives by several Member States. These innovations will allow the Framework Programme to act as a catalyst within the European Research Area.

In addition, I have recently laid two strong ideas on the table of the Spanish EU Presidency. The first is quantitative: upon my initiative, the Commission has proposed that the Union set itself the objective to increase its global research expenditure to 3% of GDP by 2010, instead of less than 2% today.

We need to catch up with the United States and Japan. I stress that this is not a matter of increasing public expenditure but of stimulating private sector investments in research: annual R&D investment by European companies currently lags behind that of their US competitors by 43% or almost 1 billion Euro. We cannot claim to become the most dynamic knowledge-based economy while producing far less knowledge than our competitors.

The second objective is qualitative. Creating a knowledge-based Europe clearly hinges on both research and education policies. The dual mission of universities in this respect illustrates clearly to what extent these two fields are linked. Together with my colleague Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Education and Culture, we are going to put forward an integrated research and education strategy to foster the European Area of Knowledge.

I consider it vital that the European Union achieve these objectives if it is to fulfil the Lisbon goals, and I call on representants of the science and technology community, such as ERCIM, to take up these objectives in all the countries and regions of Europe.

Philippe Busquin