Europe wants to boost business competiveness and to make research and development a top priority.
But first it needs to overcome the so-called European paradox, whereby the quality of EU research is not translated into innovative output. The former prime minister of the Netherlands, Wim Kok, has just presented a review – the Kok report – into a previous plan to improve this. He concluded it failed primarily due to a lack of determined political action. Euronews spoke exclusively to the newly-appointed EU Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik. Euronews: “Talking to researchers across Europe, I learnt that you have picked up one of the most dangerous jobs in Europe – because in your office a huge, dangerous monster is hiding away – called bureaucracy.” Janez Potocnik said: “Yes, it is. But on the other hand a huge challenge is also hiding. If we focus on what is the last message which came from the Wim Kok report, it is very clear. We have to change priorities, we have to put knowledge in one of the main positions – and we have to do that fast. I think that it is very important that we focus on that. But, of course, this monster of bureaucracy which you mentioned is hiding somewhere. It is not easy to deal with it – but we will try our best.” EuroNews: “Researchers are saying it’s too difficult to get funding and they have to spend too much time filling in applications.” Potocnik: “Yes, that is one of their major concerns. When we are talking about what we are doing now my proposal was to form a kind of group consisting of small and medium companies, small and medium research groups, which would echo those who are preparing the proposals for simplification. So we are trying to address that as much as possible.” EuroNews: “A while ago the heads of European states and governments met in Lisbon and they decided that if we want to catch up with Japan, if we want to catch up with the United States, we have to invest heavily in research and development. Yet this is not yet the case. Why not?” Potocnik: “Yes, because we are simply not focusing on the actions in the way we should. But returning to Lisbon it is very important to understand the message – on one hand, you have growth, competitivness and employment while on the other hand you have sustainability – the social and environmental aspects. “In the European Union it would be impossible not to deal with sustainability issues. This is part of our life. So, if you want to adress both at the same time, the only thing which is connecting them – and this is the Lisbon message – is knowledge. That is why I believe we have to increase our investment into knowledge, because knowledge is the only thing which could, in the long run, guarantee that we could deal with this problem.” EuroNews: “Some people, some states are saying no more money while others are saying we need huge amounts of money for research. How should we handle this conflict?” Potocnik: “Yes that is part of the debate at the EU level. I hope that the Commission’s proposal will prevail. The proposal is to practically double the funds. We hope to alter budget allocations from a redistributive way to a more growth and employment-orientated one. When we are talking about the money for science and research, we should also take into consideration the fact that two thirds would be coming from the private sector. That means we have to create conditions for the research to be done in Europe. EuroNews: “There is a terrible brain drain going on – lots of high-level researchers are leaving the European Union to go overseas to the United States. How can you transform this brain drain into a brain circulation?” Potocnik: “I agree with you that this is a problem. But I would not be against mobility. I think that it is extremly important that people do travel, that they change and exchange knowledge. But on the other hand, we have to deal with the problem you underlined. “On one hand, we have to think about the scientists in Europe that we want to keep in Europe. But on the other hand, we would like to attract scientists which are outside Europe, for example, in developing countries. Creating a kind of “scientific visa” would be an extremely important step. Euronews: “You are the Commissioner, you have to set the priorities. And you have to separate a short term ‘bubble’ from a serious, long-term approach. How can you do this?” Potocnik: “First of all we must strenghten the collaborative research which is already going on, then focus more on “basic science”. There is a proposal about creating a European Research Council, then focusing also on researchinfrastructure. We would like to encourage the mobility that we mentioned before. Euronews: “Research politics is a hot issue. Stem cell research is one of the hottest issues around. Are you for or against research on stem cells? Potocnik: “It is not so simple. There are various types of stem cell research. There are stem cells from adults – nobody is against that. But there are stem cell cultures that deal with embryos where there are ethical issues. So there is no easy answer.