Streamlining European Research Initiatives

By Frédérique VIDAL, French Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation

Why streamlining matters?

We live today in an exciting and unprecedented time: knowledge creation has never been so strong, turning this new knowledge into innovation has never been done so quickly, and the international competition has never been so intense.

As public policy makers, we have to make our Research & innovation (R&I) policies as lean as possible. This is even truer for Europe.

Indeed, R&I is key to the future of Europe. Investment in this sector relies on a wide range of actors: Member States, European Commission, local governments, private sector.

Yet, in spite of this undisputed political importance and of this significant number of funders the investments at EU level in R&I still lag well behind the political target coined as part of the so called Lisbon strategy almost 20 years ago and reaffirmed in the Europe 2020 strategy: indeed, in 2015, the level of research and development in the EU28 lies at 2.03% of the GDP, a far cry from the 3%.

In this context, streamlining the landscape of the European research initiatives is needed, not only to progress toward the achievement of the European Research Area, but also to simplify the whole framework and make it more efficient. This is a key issue to facilitate a major investment of the private sector in R&I.

Attracting the private sector is indeed crucial for achieving the 3% goal and finding solutions to the many societal challenges our societies are facing!

State of play and ideas for the future

European R&I partnerships are essential tools for experimentation and structuration. In the last decade, a lot has been done to stimulate the co-design and co-investment of a wide range of European R&I, with the Member States and the private sector.

For instance, on the co-designing side, since 2008, 10 joint programming initiatives have enabled the adoption of common agendas among the member States. Similarly, the European Commission has favored the involvement of the private sector in the design as well as in the project implementation of the private sector.

The principle of cPPP, for instance, has brought a clearer, institutionalized and more transparent dialogue between the European Commission and the stakeholders, in particular with specific industrial sectors. Moreover, when properly managed, cPPPs have a great EU added-value by pulling together Europe academics and industries and encouraging them to structure themselves, share their visions and cooperate on mid to long term research and technology challenges.

As an illustration, the reports (Strategic research and innovation agenda, (SRA)produced by cPPP associations are often of great quality and contribute to the efficiency of the European Commission programming.

With a view towards the FP9, these partnerships instruments must be further used to serve strategic objectives codesigned by Member States, the Commission and the industry, such as technological autonomy. Their input should go beyond mere calls for projects.

France deems necessary to strengthen the support to public-private partnerships, namely JTIs, for industry sectors matching the maturity and excellence criterias.

A few tweaks are therefore necessary to further improve PPPs impact:

The wide range of maturity degrees across different industrial sectors has insufficiently been taken into consideration. As an example, one cannot ask the same level of common commitment and assign similar objectives to 5G and Big-Data industries!

Yet, too often, extremely challenging objectives have been set uniformly across each PPP, generating a huge complexity within the governance of each initiative.

In many PPPs, stakeholders complain that the processes are burdensome and time-consuming without real added- value for them nor for the industrial sector as such. There is undoubtedly room for simplification.

I therefore suggest that a common reflection should be initiated between the Commission, Member States and industry in order to take into account this diversity and differentiate mature and integrated European value-chains from more recent and unstructured ones and define PPP key performing indicators accordingly.

PPP interactions with the Member States should be reinforced, as the latter represent more than 90% of the total R&I public investment in Europe. This dialogue is of utmost importance to help Member States take the best advantage of the very high quality of the SRAs while helping the PPP stakeholders to propose a more limited number of focused EU-level relevant R&I priorities. In this respect, Member States have to be closely involved in the governance of these partnerships.

A right balance has to be kept between the need to provide visibility to the industry and the capacity to adapt to new emerging areas or new industrial trends. In other terms the budgetary commitments in PPPs need to be used as flexible frameworks for the programming of actions.

Finally, finding the right balance between representativeness and openness requires fine tuning.

PPPs must not turn into close clubs and be open to novel ideas and new actors especially SME and start-ups. Yet, they must remain attractive to participants.

As such, PPPs may not be adapted to sector characterized by a high level integration and concentration, where the level of commitment by public authorities must be enduring, and where a very strong coordination between R&I activities is required.

For this latter initiatives, very limited in number (such as European low-power processor for example), other tools are required while keeping the necessary relationships with the parent PPPs.

Based on three keywords (focus, simplification and inclusion), the incoming negotiation on the next EU FP (FP9) is a clear opportunity to correct and adjust the PPPs to enable their full impact and France will support this approach in its position papers.