European resilience and recovery through research and innovation

The newly adopted “Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe” sets out new vision and priorities for the European Research Area and sets up a new structure for its management. The Pact for R&I defines common values and principles for research and innovation in Europe, such as freedom of scientific research and free circulation of researchers and knowledge. It also outlines 16 shared priority areas for joint action, ranging from fostering open science for faster sharing of knowledge and data, which are aimed at fostering resilience and recovery process in the member states.

The main trajectory in progressive resilience and recovery process in the member states shall be based on a greener, digitally empowered, competitive and more sustainable growth. This why a newly created European Research Area‘s structure (ERA) strives for deeper and broader cooperation with the member states research community in order to achieve four key strategic objectives: prioritizing investments in R&I, improving access to excellence, translating R&I results into the economy, and deepening policies to promote a free circulation of knowledge.
Furthermore, the ERA and the European Education Area will work together to achieve a new level of ambition in which education, research and innovation are steered in the same direction to underpin knowledge as a foundation for democratic, resilient and inclusive societies. This is essential for the EU states in remaining globally competitive and innovative while, at the same time, safeguard common European values in creating more equitable and sustainable growth.
The Council of the European Union adopted at the end of November 2021 a recommendation to the member states concerning “A Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe” (so-called “Pact for R&I in Europe”), with the guidelines for the future ERA’s governance. The driving force for changes in the EU’s R&I policy is enormous societal, ecological and economic challenges instigated by the Covid-19 pandemic; it all needs new efforts to a progressive achievements in green and digital transition. Hence, the new requirements need new responses and inauguration of the ERA’s renewed processes.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/strategy/strategy-2020-2024/our-digital-future/era_en

The Pact for R&I defines common values and principles for research and innovation in Europe, such as freedom of scientific research and free circulation of researchers and knowledge. It also outlines 16 shared priority areas for joint action, ranging from fostering open science for faster sharing of knowledge and data, to reinforcing the EU scientific leadership and excellence with the involvement of all European states, regions and citizens.
On the decision concerning the “Pact for R&I in Europe” in: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-14136-2021-INIT/en/pdf

Short history
The European Research Area, ERA (launched two decades ago in 2000), aims at integrating the EU-27 research and innovation systems while enhancing closer cooperation among all participating partners. Presently, at the member states green and digital transition process (twin transition), the ERA is facing new challenges: in fact, the ERA’s modernisation began already in 2018, followed by the historic Commission Communication formulating “a new ERA for research and innovation” in September 2020 which set out a new vision for the role of science and innovation in the perspective European integration. Also in 2020, an expert group composed of the Commission and the member states started a joint work on these urgent issues.
Addressing common challenges through coordination and pooling of resources has resulted in more than €7 billion of national investments in joint research programs since 2004, with current joint spending of about €800 million each year.
Commission Communication on “a new ERA” noted that although the EU is still a global leader in R&I, its performance has stagnated since 2012; major competitors (from Asia in particular) are gradually growing and occupying a more prominent position on the global R&I and technological advances. While R&I is still regarded as the main engine of long-term productivity growth, the EU states continue lagging behind in turning the outcomes of its excellent research into disruptive innovation and fails to fully mobilise research and technological capacities in less developed regions.
Reference to: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52020DC0628&from=EN

Interesting enough, the starting point in defining EU’s innovation policy dates back to the Commission Green Paper in December 1995(!); at that time these activities were included into the Innovation Policy Unit of the Enterprise DG. Since then, hundreds of policy measures aimed at supporting innovation have been made towards “renewed innovation policy”, however seemingly without much success, as soon as new efforts are needed…
See, e.g. First Action Plan for Innovation in Europe, Com (1996) 589 final.

Some significant changes did occur in approaches to science and research policy in the member states: with the main shifts in European science policy from research and development (R&D) to research and innovation (R&I). Following up on the Commission’s proposal in July 2021, the Pact for R&I defines priority areas for joint ERA actions and sets out the agenda for investments and reforms, and forms the basis for a simplified policy coordination and monitoring process at EU and the states’ level to share their reform and investment approaches and enhance the exchange of best practices.
The adoption of the Pact for R&I in Europe has been an essential step in putting the “new vision” into practice. Thus, the Commissioner for innovation and research, Mariya Gabriel, underlined that the adoption of the Pact has been a vital step towards creating an ERA which “fit for the future”. A new ERA shows the member states’ common commitment to mobilise research and innovation policies with concrete actions facing modern challenges, e.g. green and digital transitions. The new European R&I governance’s framework allows the national decision-makers to create a single and unified market for research, innovation and technology that the EU needs in order to increase its competitiveness in the world. Reference to press release: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_6270

New ERA for R&I and new priorities
At the end of 2020, the EU has specified some priority areas in R&I:
I. Prioritising investments and reforms: to accelerate the green and digital transformation and to increase competitiveness as well as the speed and depth of the recovery. This requires better analysis and evidence and includes simplifying and facilitating the inter-play between national and European R&I systems. The principle of excellence (i.e. that only the best researchers with the best ideas obtain funding) remains the cornerstone for all investments under the ERA.
II. Improving access to excellence: towards more excellence and stronger R&I systems across the whole of the EU where best practice is disseminated faster across Europe. The EU states willing to increase the national R&I performance towards excellence should be encouraged and supported, building on dedicated Horizon Europe measures and complementarities with smart specialisation strategies under the EU Cohesion Policy.
III. Translating R&I results into the economy: R&I policies should aim at boosting the resilience and competitiveness of our economies and societies. This means ensuring Europe’s competitive leadership in the global race for technology while improving the environment for business R&I investment, deployment of new technologies and enhancing the take up and visibility of research results in the economy and society as a whole.
IV. Deepening the ERA: to further progress on the free circulation of knowledge in an upgraded, efficient and effective R&I system, in particular by moving from an approach of coordination towards deeper integration between national policies. The ERA will continue to promote adequate framework conditions and inclusiveness, help develop the skills that researchers need for excellent science, and connect all actors across Europe, including in education, training and the labour market.
See: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2020%3A628%3AFIN in Communication from 30.ix.2020.
The new ERA, according to the Pact adopted in November 2021, will slightly refurbish existing priorities while adding some additional: a) prioritise investments and reforms in research and innovation, b) boost market uptake, c) strengthen mobility of researchers and free flow of knowledge and technology; and d) improve access to excellence.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/strategy/strategy-2020-2024/our-digital-future/era_en

Drawbacks and changes
ERA’s progress has been slowed down recently: the EU R&D investment is at about 2.2% of GDP (2018), still far from its 3% target; public R&D investment has stagnated since 2010 and the EU business R&D investment (1.45% of GDP) remains significantly lower than that of the EU’s main competitors (e.g. in Japan – about 2.6 %). Additional efforts are needed to strengthen industrial innovation, technology transfer and fostering the uptake of R&I solutions, as well as dissemination of innovation through knowledge transfer and public-private cooperation.
The EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027, which is the large-scale recovery plan “Next Generation EU” has created foundations for a modern and sustainable EU, while promoting an inclusive recovery and social fairness. Such EU directions as: the Recovery and Resilience Facility, Cohesion policy and the Technical Support Instrument, will contribute to more coordination encouraging the EU states to invest in new technologies and in a number of flagship areas.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/european-research-area-policy-agenda-2022-2024_en

For several years European debates were directed towards regional/global challenges in order to gain perspective positions in global competition in science and technologies. Main ideas in these debates were concentrated on “future and emerging technologies”, so-called FETs. Thus, the European FETs represent challenging and long-term research directions into uncharted areas that stretch the boundaries of science and technology, e.g. in graphene, human brain project and quantum technologies, to name a few. The EU-27 is home to 1.8 million researchers working in thousands of universities, research centers and world-leading manufacturing industries. By working together the EU member states can push the boundaries of science towards developing practical applications that can make difference to people’s lives.
Already five years ago, the then Commission Vice-President described the rationale of political and financial commitment to FETs consisting of the following priorities: developing a dynamic environment for R&I; allow innovations “smooth progress” from laboratories to market; attract and retain world-class talent; and stipulate Europe’s role as a global science leader.
Reference to Commission press release in November 2017 at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-4383_en.htm?locale=en

In the previous Commission the approaches to R&I followed four main principles and directions: = creating new technologies and business models, which could make digital economy/society more inclusive; generally, by reducing inequality; = forcing innovations, that could empower people to fully participate in digital agenda and provide for increased employment; = supporting active labour market and crating appropriate skills to shape knowledge economy through creativity; and = finding solutions to protect and support low wage/skilled workers in the evolving labour market. All of these are still vital presently…
Still several EU states in the eastern part are not able using the outcomes of modern innovation: e.g. Latvian economy, which is – with few exceptions- is based on transit services, timber exports and the processing of agricultural products, the potentials of using R&I are limited.
Take another example: the EU’s standardization system as a key element in facilitating innovation reflects recent technological advancements on the European and global markets in delivering standards for the “green and digital” single market. The main objectives in this direction are the following: preserving the strengths of the EU’s standardization system; resolving current bottlenecks in standardization processes (i.e. through harmonised European standards), and anticipate standardization priorities by leveraging industry expertise and aligning with international standardization activities.
Reference to: https://www.businesseurope.eu/publications/businesseurope-headlines-no-2021-34/#standards

Of course, there is a need to optimize the European R&I governance, as the ERA actions, as identified in the “Pact for R&I in Europe “ policy agenda, are aimed at ensuring impact, credibility and effectiveness of the “new ERA”; the actual implementation should be guided by the following criteria in totally 20 actions depicted in the Pact: deepening a “truly functioning” internal market for knowledge; aligning in one solution tool the challenges posed by the green and digital transition; increasing civil society’s participation in the ERA’s activity; amplifying access to R&I excellence in the EU member states; and advancing “concerted R&I investments and reforms”. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/research_and_innovation/strategy_on_research_and_innovation/documents/ec_rtd_era-policy-agenda-2021.pdf
Although one of the main questions remain: how can the states’ governance innovate more and innovate well by looking at the design of policy for upstream-technology-decision-making, by sharing practical ideas and experiences and by identifying the frameworks needed for promoting values-based technologies?

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