Written by Zsolt G. Pataki and Evangelia M. Thoukididou,
What should innovation policy look like as we approach 2020 and prepare for the next Multiannual Financial Framework? Based on a proposal submitted by MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij, STOA held a workshop on 5 June 2018 to assess whether there is sufficient coordination among all stakeholders in view of the roll-out of the new, integrated EU innovation strategy.
Opening the event, STOA First Vice-Chair Paul Rübig, noted that, with more than 40 hubs across the continent, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) plays a key role in European innovation, and has the full support of the European Parliament. The EIT was created in 2008 and as an independent body, plays a crucial role in boosting and coordinating innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe with one simple idea: through diversity, there is strength.
Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, who is responsible for the EIT, presented the main factors hindering innovation in Europe: a shortage of skills, lack of infrastructure and poor investment. ´We have to create the right conditions for innovation’, he shared. The answer to the innovation challenges faced by Europe is increased collaboration with those within the innovation landscape – universities, research organisations, companies – both small and large, NGOs, and of course, its citizens. Commissioner Navracsics highlighted that solutions to the question of innovation must be targeted and tailored to local and regional capabilities and needs. Horizon 2020 and its successor should be complemented with national, regional and local resources wherever possible.
This is where the EIT comes in, as it has the ability to bridge the European, regional and local levels. Martin Kern, Interim Director of the EIT, represented the institute at the workshop and shared its achievements, as well as its goals and objectives going forward. He quoted Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, who once said, ‘If someone is interested in the future of the EU look to the EIT’.
Indeed, with a strong portfolio of projects including Volocopter, Advantis and Alina, the future of the EIT looks promising. The EIT has managed its success through an innovation model that places it at the centre of educational institutions, research organisations and businesses, including SMEs. Martin Kern explained that the EIT would like to engage in increased collaboration with EU bodies, such as the European Innovation Council (EIC), in the same way it has already worked with the Joint Research Centre (JRC). During the workshop, Boris Dimitrov, CEO of Checkpoint Cardio, a medical start-up which has benefited from the services of EIT Digital, presented the key advantage provided by the EIT as being the access provided to consolidated funding across different European regions. Going forward, the EIT aims to increase participation from low-involvement members and continue dissemination of knowledge in less innovative regions of the EU.
Jean-David Malo, Director for Open Innovation and Open Science, DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, referred to the Commission’s call for national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies for research and innovation. This will allow them to identify specific competitive advantages, which will serve as a basis for prioritising research and innovation investment under current and future cohesion policy. The communication on ‘Strengthening Innovation in Europe’s regions: Strategies for resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth‘, takes stock of the progress made in the area of decentralised innovation thus far. According to Lambert van Nistelrooij, MEP, this communication is largely descriptive and limits itself to ESI funds, Horizon 2020 and its successor, Horizon Europe.
Christian Ehler, MEP, and STOA Panel Member, discussed the integration of the EIT into broader programmes, such as the international dimension of European innovation policy. The European Parliament will be requesting an increase in the budget and Mr Ehler would like to see this go towards the third pillar of the Horizon Europe programme, from which the EIT can benefit. An increase in funding would allow for actionable initiatives that can translate academic research into business practice, a process in which the EIT can act as an experienced instrument.
As Mr Malo stated, with a €100 billion budget targeted at boosting the sectors of science and technology, transforming research into business opportunities will be possible for the first time. In the past two years, Europe has in fact created more start-ups than the US, but has failed to grow them into successful enterprises. Therefore, much of the new funding will go towards supporting scientists in creating tangible businesses and aiding them in their growth. This will be achieved through practical support and the provision of equity, in addition to the grants already offered in the growth stage. In the long-term, these actions aim to make companies not currently supported by banks and the fragmented venture capital market more attractive to private investors. The EIT will play an integral role in these initiatives, along with the EIC and the European Innovation Ecosystem, covering raw materials, energy, climate, food, health and digital innovation sectors, across which it holds specialised expertise.