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EU’s plan to do “much better” in innovation by 2020

In mid-October, the European Commission made public its master plan for transforming the European Union into an “Innovation Union” by 2020, through a new communication under the same name. Innovation Union, under the purview of the Directorate General for Research, is one of the seven flagship initiatives to support the Europe 2020 Strategy for “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”. It aims to improve conditions and access to finance for research and innovation, and ensure that innovation will be used to generate growth and employment in all member states.

The communication outlines ten key areas where concerted action is needed in order to step up Europe’s innovative potential and achieve the status of “world-class science performer” in the coming years. Among the key elements, the communication mentions the need to make the European Research Area (ERA) a reality by 2014, and for the ERA to become the framework that guarantees the free movement of researchers and knowledge. It also stresses the role of higher education in this process. Specifically, Europe must field more modernised education systems with more world-class universities. These institutions need to perform better in international rankings, generate more highly-skilled professionals, and attract more international talent from abroad. Additionally, the strategy emphasises the necessity to invest in R&D, innovation and ICTs, particularly in times of economic downturn. Also important are reforms to tackle fragmentation and to help better align research and innovation systems at the European and national levels.

Last but not least the strategy puts in place a monitoring and benchmarking system. This includes a self-assessment tool that identifies the main features of well-performing national and regional research and innovation systems, as well as a list of 25 indicators that will be used in an annual Performance Scoreboard for Research and Innovation, designed to monitor progress through 2020.

European Commission