Experts call for EU leaders to make 'radical improvements' in research policy following an assessment of the current state of European science

Research experts have called for EU leaders to make ’radical improvements’ in research policy following an assessment of the current state of European science. 

Five expert panels issued a joint statement noting that science is an increasingly global competitive endeavour, and that the EU needs to overhaul its research, development and innovation policy to prevent being left behind. 

The document, which included five major recommendations, was released on 7 December at a briefing at the European Parliament. The bold statement comes just weeks before the seating of a new European Commission, which will include Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Ireland in the new position of research and innovations commissioner, replacing current commissioner for science and research, Janez Potocnik. 

’Innovation is becoming the most important engine of growth and jobs,’ the statement noted. ’But in the European Union, many policies governing research, development and innovation need radical improvement and better long-term planning.’ 

John Wood, chairman of European Research Area Board, one of the five panels, told Chemistry World that policy changes should be implemented ’as soon as possible if the outcomes are to be realisable in the next 10-20 years,’ adding: ’Standing still is not a viable option as other economies are investing heavily.’ 

EU officials and members of the European Parliament who attended the briefing were ’highly supportive’ of the general message of the joint statement, Wood says. The statement carries added weight because five groups representing different aspects of research were able to agree on the key recommendations for EU policy makers. The other four panels are the Business Panel on future EU innovation policy, Expert Group on the Role of Community Research Policy in the Knowledge-Based Economy, European Technology Platforms Expert Group, and the Science|Business Innovation Board. 

The five recommendations for EU research policy include a focus on the greatest societal challenges (such as climate change and healthcare); encouraging new networks and policies for open innovation; increased spend on research, education and innovation; improved planning and co-ordination of research, development and innovation programmes; and open competition as standard in EU programmes. 

Wood says the only disagreement among the five panels was ’on emphasis’ of the recommendations. For example, the European Research Area Board would like to remove all hindrances to researcher mobility with the EU, but this could involve changes in rules governing national pension systems that could be opposed by some business interests. 

If the recommendations are followed by the EU, Wood said Europe would be moving closer to a US-style system ’although sovereignty of member states will be preserved.’