In the last decade, innovation has been seen at the EU level as a key process in order to achieve the objectives of economic, sustainable and inclusive growth. Strategies, policies and instruments have been developed mainly by the European Commission in order to support all the activities of the innovation process. Nevertheless, it seems that Europe is still not able to reach its full potential for innovation.
On 31 May 2016, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) organized a round table discussion between representatives of the EU institutions and academic experts in order to discuss the current issues the EU is facing in the development of an efficient innovation policy. The debate held in the European Parliament Reading Room in Brussels was moderated by Vincent Reillon, policy analyst at the EPRS Members Research Service.
In his initial statement, MEP Paul Rübig (EPP) stressed that the world is changing, requiring new solutions to address current issues. In this context, the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel of the European Parliament that he chairs focuses its activities on topics such as mobility, resources, the virtual world or how to ensure healthy lives. MEP Clare Moody (S&D) directed her intervention on innovation on the ground noting in her constituency the strong links between universities and SMEs. At the local level, she sees that EU policies bring stability and predictability, allowing the actors to engage in the innovation process. She also stressed that innovation has to be linked with political priorities in order to address societal challenges.
Robert Madelin, Senior Innovation Adviser within the European Political Strategy Center of the Commission, noted that the myth of the underperformance of Europe in innovation or the myth of the innovation pipeline – turning knowledge into goods and services – have to be abandoned. Nevertheless, he recognized there are still pending issues in Europe. Innovation needs the EU wide scale and networks to reach its full potential as it cuts across constitutional layers.
Stephan Raes, Head of the Economic Department at the Netherlands Permanent Representation to the EU, pointed out that innovation was a priority of the Netherlands presidency of the Council of the European Union this semester. The Competitiveness Council adopted in May conclusions on ‘Better regulation’ that includes an ‘innovation principle’ to be considered in the development of new regulation. He also noted that more connections are needed in Europe for innovation to flourish and that coherence is required between policies developed at EU, national and local levels.
Lena Tsipouri, professor at the Department of Economic Sciences in the National University of Athens, reminded that innovation is a very difficult process as it requires long-term thinking and is risk loaded. She stressed that EU policies for innovation are not received the same way in leading regions and in the ones lagging behind. The latter often face the difficulties of risk averse markets and administrations. However, she recognized that change is coming in those regions and that they are in the process of getting it right.
Luke Georghiou, professor of Science and Technology Policy at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, concluded this first round of interventions by confirming that managing an innovation policy mix is a messy business. In Europe, there is a tendency to assess well the deficiencies of the system but it seems harder to provide efficient solutions. In his opinion, the policy makers should concentrate on the management of the flows of knowledge, people and funds between the actors of innovation, addressing the barriers to these flows at EU level.
During the debate, the participants recognized that not all companies need to grow or can grow. Innovation can foster the establishment of new leaders but can also be used to sustain the activities of existing companies, keeping them at the forefront of competitiveness. This lead the panelists to discuss the opportunity to differentiate innovations based on their impact: the ones that will create jobs, those that will support existing jobs and the ones that will destroy jobs. However, they agreed that it was nearly impossible to perform such a ranking.
Consensus was strong on the fact that there is a need to identify the best solutions and to exchange best practices between European regions. There are many good practices that can be shared, reproduced, experimented. There is also a need to upscale the labor force and invest more in education and skills, with innovative learning techniques. This area requires increased investments from both the public and private sector. Moreover, there is a need in Europe to develop a dedicated space for all the actors of innovation to find each other and connect. Finally, there is a need to set up a learning innovation system in Europe, able to adapt quickly and operate faster, with improved governance.