How to turn science into growth

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The European Commission assigned a group of experts led by former WTO director-general Pascal Lamy to evaluate the impact of Horizon 2020, its 8th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. In this column, Lamy summarises his conclusions and recommendations.

When we look at Europe’s “global market share” for science and innovation, there is a conspicuous disconnect. With only 7% of the world’s population, Europe produces 25% of the new knowledge in science. In innovation, even if the yardsticks are less precise, we clearly do not hold the 20% market share that should be ours. Indicators such as the small number of unicorns on the Continent confirm that we’ve fallen behind.

There are various reasons for this. One is Europe’s aversion to risk, compared to the US. The financial system also plays an important role. The little debt that American banks carry is resold on financial markets, with the risk of provoking crises. The internal European digital market is still significantly more fragmented than its US counterpart. We will have to do much work to catch up and resolve these weaknesses one by one because, despite immigration, Europe is an ageing continent. If we hope to retain our heavily redistributive economic and social model, we cannot be satisfied with 1.5% growth.

In our Lab-Fab-App report, we suggest doubling the next programme’s budget to €160 billion, compared to FP8. Everyone agrees that we need to invest as much as possible in research and innovation because, in the dematerialised economy of the future, grey matter and talent will be the main resources.

A major problem for Europe is the brain drain that occurs as our researchers head to the US. To entice them back to our shores, we need to offer them prospects. Compared to the 1980s, when intellectual property and patents locked down science, the world of science is now fairly open. The entire world works together. Political powers, whether European, American or Chinese, have only limited influence. But if Donald Trump cuts back research budgets and we send the opposite message, Europe could benefit considerably. Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, has assured me that our report has not gone unnoticed in the US. My friend Patrick Aebischer, former president of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) had an excellent way of attracting scientists: he asked them if they wanted to be paid US wages and live in Europe.

On the whole, the research community has reacted favourably to our proposals. The idea that €100 invested in the EU budget will go further than €100 in national budgets is making headway. This is one of the main achievements of the Horizon 2020 programme. The European Research Council has also changed people’s perceptions significantly. The initiative to provide it with €15 billion in funding and give it the power to approve programmes was bold.

Certain universities were less enamoured of our conclusions. We believe that they need to unshackle themselves, give researchers much more responsibility and set up local entrepreneurs on their campuses. The European model is EPFL, with its integration of the public and private sectors. It is widely recognised, just like Silicon Valley or like the clusters currently being planned at Paris-Saclay. EPFL embodies the three pillars in the title of our report: Lab (labs) Fab (manufacturing) and App (applications).


A column by:

Highly regarded as an international expert on globalisation, Pascal Lamy was director-general of the World Trade Organisation from 2005 to 2013.

A committed European, he was chief of staff for European Commission President Jacques Delors from 1985 to 1994 and a European Commissioner from 1999 to 2004. Lamy is currently president emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank.




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