Reflections

”Make the most of the European research environment”

Well educated, motivated young people are Europe's future. We must encourage and build upon their talents.
[Photo: European Commission/François Walschaerts]

Europe must become even more innovative than it already is. An important prerequisite for this is to make the most of the European research environment,for example, by enabling researchers and highly-qualified personnel to work and carry out research throughout the EU. In his guest article for forschung leben, EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger explains what can be done in the political sphere to ensure that the public not only understands the merits of science and innovation, but also that it benefits the whole of society.

Well educated, motivated young people are Europe's future.

Günther H. Oettinger, European Comissioner for Budget and Human Resources

Science, along with innovation, shapes almost all areas of our lives. Science and innovation create new and improved products and services, leading to jobs and investment opportunities. The results of science provide also the foundations for evidence-based policy-making to tackle the big challenges such as health, climate change, sustainable energy, human migration, social integration, and last but not least the digital economy.Because of that, science and innovation are central to the policy-portfolio of the European Union.

That includes the direct support which the Union provides to scientists and innovators through the 8. multi-annual Framework Program Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), as well as policies which create better conditions – a European Research Area – in which these scientists and innovators can excel. And it also includes the use of science to inform better regulation and policy making, whether provided by science-based agencies of the EU, standing committees and expert groups or by the High Level Group of Scientific Advisors to the College of European Commissioners.Of course, there is more to be done.

We need a far more innovative Europe in the future, at the front edge of global competition, where national strengths are optimized in a well-performing European Research Area, where knowledge and a highly skilled and educated workforce circulate freely, and where the outcomes of Science and Innovation are understood and trusted by informed citizens and benefit society as a whole.

Practicing an open research culture will be one of the central challenges facing the modern universities of tomorrow.

Günther H. Oettinger, European Comissioner for Budget and Human Resources

Beyond Boundaries and Disciplines

Horizon 2020 has a budget of 80 B €. It provides funding in areas of strategic economic or societal importance for the EU. The emphasis is on collaborative research, carried out by multi-national consortia comprised of universities, research organizations and private sector actors. Horizon 2020continues to be the only large-scale programs under which universities in one Member State can have funded collaborations with industries in other Member States, across all boundaries, between countries, between disciplines and between basic and applied research. The FPs also provide specific measures to stimulate innovation in SMEs. Horizon2020 has also proven that it is flexible and can respond to emergencies such as Ebola and Zika.

In the area of frontier research, Horizon 2020 promotes the excellence of EU science. Funding is provided to scientist-driven, bottom-up research across all areas of science, innovation and scholarship. The careers of countless EU scientists have benefited from Marie Sklodowska Curie grants; and the European Research Council's grants to Principal Investigators are renowned for rewarding and producing excellent research. The impacts are clear to see: an abundance of highly-reputed publications and an increased participation of the world's most eminent scientists.The interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 showed that Horizon 2020 is an attractive and well-performing program. It has attracted so far more than 100.000 applications, a huge increase com-pared to the Seventh Framework Program.

It involves top level participants from the higher education,research and private sectors, from a wide range of disciplines and thematic fields, and from over 130 countries. Private sector participation has increased compared to FP7 and almost a quarter of the budget for industrial and enabling technologies goes to SME's, far exceeding the target. Horizon2020 is also on track to be cost-efficient, achieving a very low administrative overhead and the large scale simplification of the rules for participation. It also has clear European added value, 83% of funded projects would not have gone ahead with EU funding.So, a lot of progress has been made, but a lot of progress is still to be made. The preparations for the next Framework Program are in full swing and many stakeholders have presented their views on this. Let me pick out a few elements for you that attach great importance to personally.

Involve Society

Firstly I acknowledge the importance of the human factor as was also emphasized in the German position paper on FP9: "The large number of well trained and motivated young people is one of Europe's strengths.These people design and represent Europe's future.We must make special efforts to foster their talent as young researchers who gain experience in different places throughout Europe or as young entrepreneurs who are changing the world by implementing their ideas. We must broaden our vision and consider the needs of citizens from the outset by developing adequate forms of public participation." The importance of involvement of citizens and their needs is also crucial. Performing Open Science, including the access to scientific articles and data to the wider scientific community and the general public, will be one of the key challenges to the modern universities of the future.

Secondly, Europe must do better in innovation. Our competitors in the US and Asia lead the way in growing innovative companies and many of them are youngsters: less than 20 years of age.Names such as Tencent, Alibaba, Netflix, Paypal. In Europe, we have relatively few of these blockbuster companies. Europe has five times less venture capital than the US. FP9 will have to work on that. It will contain a European Innovation Council to help innovative companies with scaling up. We need public money for that, of course, but much more so private investments and venture capital.

Thirdly, in a recent report to the Commission the Italian economist Marianna Mazzuca to has made a strong plea for mission-oriented research, these are systemic public policies that draw on frontier knowledge or "big science to meet big problems". Missions provide a solution to address the many challenges that people face in their daily lives. This requires the active participation of all kind of stakeholders in society, who can contribute to a concrete solution so that the program has maximum impact.

Finally, Horizon 2020 still suffers from under funding,even if Research saw a steady rise in budget since the 80ies. This results in large-scale over subscription,which constitutes an enormous waste of resources for applicants and good proposals for Europe. Redressing under-investment in R&I across most of the EU Member States, compared to the main global R&I players, notably China, is of crucial importance. However, the gap to the 3% of GDP benchmark will not be bridged by the EU R&I budget alone.

The University of Stuttgart is one of the most successful German universities in Horizon 2020. The University participates in 82 projects under Horizon2020 and has received a EU financial contribution of more than € 41 mln. up until now. In this issue you will find some excellent examples of research projects of the University of Stuttgart under Horizon2020. I am very confident that the University of Stuttgart will continue and even reinforce their contribution to European research and society as a whole in the future!

Günther H. Oettinger,
European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources

Between 2005 and 2010 Günther H.Oettinger was the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg. He has been working for the European Commission since February 2010. Until October 2014, he was Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Energy before becoming Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society from November 2014 to December 2016. He has been Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources since January 2017.

Contact

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Andrea Mayer-Grenu

Scientific Consultant, Research Publications

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