Europe lags behind when it comes to translating breakthrough technologies into business opportunities but the EU aims to overcome this with Horizon 2020, a €80 billion plan to boost research and innovation for 2014-2020. On 20 March the Parliament's industry committee questioned scientists and business leaders about whether they thought these ambitious plans would be enough. The committee will produce a recommendation to the EP this autumn after which negotiations can start with the Council.
The Horizon 2020 programme focuses on turning scientific research results into new products and services that will create jobs. It does this by making it easier for researchers and firms to seek funding and giving more support to small and medium-sized companies and market-oriented activities. In addition EU spending on research has been significantly increased.
Portuguese Christian-Democrat Maria da Graça Carvalho, responsible for formulating the committee's position, said: "Horizon 2020 is the main EU financial instrument that will implement innovation in member states and guarantee Europe's competitiveness on the global stage."
Spanish Social-Democrat Teresa Riera Madurell, who is also responsible for drafting the recommendation to Parliament, added: "Research and development is a pillar that in economic crisis can help Europe to grow in a sustained way and would create quality jobs."
"Need for university reform"
Dr Burton Lee, a lecturer at Stanford School of Engineering in the US, told the committee he supported the Horizon 2020 initiative, but argued that European research institutions should become market driven. "All they want is the pure research institutions and somebody else worries about the innovation. I don't agree with this approach, but that is generally the way how European universities think about this issue."
Dr Lee said it would be vital to reform universities in order to stimulate innovation. "Because ultimately if you do not get inside the universities and do not change their cultures, if you do not have students and professors creating start-ups, it is not going to happen.
"Someone needs to step forward at EU level and issue a call for action for university reform. If it's not the EP, who is going to do this?"