Europe has a 'daunting mountain' to climb if it is to deliver the Lisbon agenda, says UK trade and industry minister, Alun Michael.

Europe has a ’daunting mountain’ to climb if it is to deliver the Lisbon agenda, said UK trade and industry minister, Alun Michael, speaking at this week’s Cordia Biotechnology Convention in London, UK.

The political climate has changed dramatically since European Union leaders met in Lisbon in 2000, said Michael.

The Lisbon pledge to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy in the World with better and more sustained jobs by 2010 is looking at best optimistic. Ann Mettler, founding partner of Brussels think tank The Lisbon Council expressed frustration at Europe’s lack of progress and economic reform, and suggested that education should be a focus rather than R&D spending. Of the 20 million European unemployed, 18 per cent are under 25, and the EU only spends about half as much on education per student as spent in the US, she said. Coupled with an increasing ageing population to support, said Mettler, ’Europe really needs a Lisbon agenda’.

Genomics expert William Hasseltine said that the key change in the last five years is R&D market globalisation. He said that biotech companies need to broaden their context, and that some EU and country policies risk ’strangling fledgling companies.’ Hasseltine highlighted impressive technological advancement and growth in regions such as China, India, Eastern Europe and Brazil. What this should mean for the biotechnology industry, he said, is ’opportunity on an unprecedented scale’.

Johan Vanhemelrijk, secretary general of EuropaBio, called for greater visibility of the everyday usefulness of biotechnology products, and said that while these emerging regions explore new technology, Europeans place an emphasis on risk, both to the environment and the consumer. Predictable and robust scientific product regulations and less red tape were the way forward, he suggested, pointing out that 20 per cent of current medicines and 50 per cent of those in the pipeline are biotechnology-based.

Increased globalisation, including positive immigration policies to actively attract the best workers in the knowledge economy, plus regulation moving in step with science could help resuscitate the Lisbon agenda. The UK’s pro-active approach to stem cell research sets a good example, attracting top scientists and companies to the UK, said Michael. Helen Carmichael