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Innovation Convention catches EU in an upbeat mood

According to an article published on Science|Business , Europe’s research and innovation vitals are looking good, claimed President José Manuel Barroso this week, as researchers and policymakers descended on Brussels.


The Innovation Convention opened in a buoyant fashion on Monday (10 March) with EU President José Manuel Barroso claiming Europe is the, “biggest power house in terms of innovation and science in the world.”

“The European Union produces almost a third of the world’s total science and technology production and we count almost twice as many science and technology graduates as the US,” Barroso told the meeting.

At the last Innovation Convention in 2011 it was, “Common to speak about [the] exit of Greece, the implosion of the Euro [and] some people were still speaking of the possibility of the disintegration of the European Union,” he continued.

Three years later and a lot of the EU’s self-doubt has receded. Last week’s innovation scoreboard results showed the continent closing the innovation gap with the US and Japan. The EU’s research funding programme Horizon 2020, with an €80 billion budget, is the bloc’s biggest ever.

However, Barroso was also obliged to address Europe’s shortcomings. “The 27 best performing regions are in only eight of our Member States. We are still behind some of our partners, and are still some way off our target of [spending] three per cent of GDP on research and innovation that others are already meeting.”

Others were keeping things in perspective too. Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman and interim CEO of Nokia, pointed to, “182,000 pages of EU regulation” bearing down on companies in Finland. Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics, Cambridge University said that, “the EU is the world’s top producer of publications but we are behind the US in citations.”

At the SME workshop, panelists reprehended the 80-90 pages they have to complete for proposals and the time-to-grant limbo.  Charlotte Dyring, CEO of the Danish biotech start-up Expres2ion, told delegates that her company once waited a year for funding. Couldn’t things be made easier, she asked?

Bernd Reichert, Head of Unit "SMEs in Horizon 2020" at the European Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises expects improvement under Horizon 2020. He said, “six months [waiting time] is what we can give you.”

Reichert also disputed that Europe has more red tape than the US. “The US has federal laws and individual state laws – it is, in truth, far more bureaucratic than the EU, he said. The first thing you see when you go to government research funding websites is a message reading “get a consultant, don’t do it alone,” Reichert noted.

Rewarding people and ideas

Apart from taking Europe’s innovation temperature and encouraging debate, the convention’s main focus was on rewarding achievements in innovation.  

Parkinson's disease researcher Saskia Biskup won the €100,000 women innovators prize. "If you have an idea, just go with it,” was her straightforward message to young women scientists in Europe.

German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH was honoured with the EU's first ever innovation inducement prize worth €2 million. The company received the prize for its novel technology to keep vaccines stable at ambient temperatures.

Read more on Science|Business

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