European science/research and innovation performance in 2024

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Recently published the 2024 edition of the Science, Research and Innovation (R&I) Performance report, SRIP-24 has shown that over the past two decades the EU increased investments in R&I which contributed to the EU’s competitiveness in green technologies and, specifically, in the overall EU-wide high quality research. However, the challenges remain and the EU is facing several obstacles in a better way of exploiting its rich R&I achievements.  

The SRIP-24 report analyses research and innovation dynamics and its drivers: it combines indicator-based analysis with deep dives into topical policy issues presently discussed among the scientific community (both research and innovation) as well as economics and finance policymakers and analysts.
Recent crises also highlight the importance of resilience and preparedness in R&I: the EU has shown adaptability, with 70 percent of citizens viewing it as a stable region in uncertain times.
During crises, top research and development investors maintained high investment levels, suggesting that R&I is regarded as a vital component for mitigating crises, ensuring economic resilience and fostering long-term competitiveness.
Nevertheless, this requires a forward-looking strategic perspective in the EU-wide R&I policies and the need to further enhancing global research networks.

Three main challenges for EU’s R&I
= Underutilized R&I systems: although the EU is a top global player in scientific research, but it is facing several obstacles in a better way of exploiting its rich R&I achievements. With sharp variations in research and development, R&D efforts among the EU member states to reach the 3 percent of GDP target are still far from being achieved.
= Persistent R&I divide: R&I activities have a tendency to concentrate in certain places – which can be reinforced through provision of support to the highest achieving activities and actors.
= Technological gap compared to other regions of the world, also caused by the complexities in raising private sector investment for R&I at the EU level. While the EU has made strong progress with the green transition, there is still progress to be made in the digital area.
Citation and source, Commission press release in:

Green growth and development
Green start-ups are vital for the transition to a more environmentally friendly economy, but the trend faces various challenges, including the triple externality problem: green start-ups carry high costs and risks associated with their entrepreneurial activity, causing the social benefits of their innovations to often exceed private returns.
The report provides a review (ch.7) of key insights from the stream of research on green start-ups and discusses implications for the public support of green start-ups and policy more generally.
National and the EU-wide technology’s sovereignty have emerged as a critical issue in the European science, technology and innovation policies; however, the EU lags behind in several technologies and relies heavily on foreign inputs of knowledge and raw materials. The report also concentrated on specific challenges related to technological sovereignty and its link with open strategic autonomy and economic security.
Besides, the report analyses the current and future outlook of green technologies in Europe to assess the need for substantial technological transformation in the pursuit of climate neutrality. By looking through the lenses of the emerging paradigm of economic complexity, the report reveals a varied landscape of specialization, diversification and highlights the importance of regional cohesion in the EU wail calling for tailored regional investment strategies.

Strengths and weaknesses of EU R&I performance
Some of the key findings of the science, research and innovation performance of the EU report are:
= The EU maintains a leading position in global patent filings related to renewables (29%) and to energy efficiency (24%).
= The EU is only surpassed by China in terms of scientific output and represents 18 percent of the global scientific production. As regards the global share in top 10% most-cited publications, the EU is performing similarly to the US but behind China. In 2021 the EU only ranked fifth in terms of R&I intensity (2.3 %), standing below the US (3.5 %), Japan (3.3 %), South Korea (4.9 %) and China (2.4 %), which surpassed the EU level for R&I intensity for the first time in 2020.
= Key productive technologies: compared to the US and China, the EU is less specialised in key productivity-enhancing technologies, particularly in the fields of artificial intelligence, internet of things, blockchain technologies and quantum computers.
= The venture capital market in the EU is limited compared to other regions of the world, hindering private investments in innovative companies.
The report also notes that in order to maintain the EU’s competitive edge and sustain its path towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scientific findings need to be converted more rapidly into commercial and social applications.
The EU-wide innovation performance has been improving over time, but more efforts are needed to maximize R&I returns through knowledge diffusion and valorization. To enhance and accelerate the transformation of research into practical applications, a systemic approach to knowledge diffusion, strategic intellectual asset management as well as enhanced collaboration across academia, industry and government is essential. To foster innovation activities, an adaptable regulatory framework and a proactive standardization strategy remains of key importance, concludes the report.

Investments in defence R&D
The need for such investments is underlined by the current geopolitical situation; although the EU’s defence spending surpasses that of Russia but remains lower than the US in nominal terms. Presently, the EU defence investments prioritise the acquisition of defence equipment, focusing on technology development and production rather than foundational R&D.
The report notes that fostering the synergies between EU defence and civilian R&D programs can support the active development of the defence sector and “uptake of dual-use technologies” within the EU. These technologies, serving both civilian and military purposes, could contribute to shaping the future landscape of innovation and the EU-wide and the member states’ security.
Source: report’s executive summary in:

Digital and AI tools
The use of AI and other digital tools can make scientists and researchers more efficient and accelerate research productivity across fields, thereby helping to push forward the EU-wide scientific and technological advances.
The use of these advanced digital tools in science is increasing world-wide at a significant pace, with China taking the lead, followed by the US and the EU.
National R&I policy can support AI uptake through financing and the development of the right enablers to promote multi-disciplinarity in research and science, in general.
Nevertheless, the report underlines that the diffusion of AI in science poses important challenges related to jobs, ethics, and privacy.
However, the R&I policies can balance these risks and opportunities of AI by promoting a so-called human-centric approach that emphasizes creativity, supports the creation of new tasks and complements existing political-economic priorities and activities.
Underlining that the global productivity growth has slowed, the report focuses on its causes and consequences (ch.10), with a particular focus on the growing productivity gaps among companies and the challenges posed by digitalization and the green transition in Europe. The report emphasizes the positive relationship between productivity, employment and wages, and argues for policy actions to boost digital adoption, encourage innovation and ensuring inclusive growth.
Quite interesting are the World Economic Forum’s predictions on the so-called “top emerging technologies”, which are having “the greatest potential to make a positive impact in the world in the next three to five years”. Thus among these perspective technologies are, e.g. AI-powered scientific discoveries, carbon-capturing microbes, elastocalorics (they offer higher efficiency and lower energy use by releasing and absorbing heat under mechanical stress while presenting a sustainable alternative to current technologies), as well as several others focusing on health issues, integrating sensing and communication, infrastructure and sustainability.
There are additionally the following perspective technologies: carbon-capturing microbes (such as “engineered organisms” that convert emissions into valuable products like biofuels, providing a promising approach to mitigating climate change), alternative livestock feeds (e.g. protein feeds for livestock sourced from single-cell proteins, algae and food waste to offer a sustainable solution for agricultural industry), and genomics for transplants (successful implantation of genetically engineered organs into humans marks a significant advancement in healthcare by rescue millions of patients awaiting transplants).
These “top ten” emerging technologies are expected to make “breakthrough impacts” on societies and economies within the next three-five years.
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