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EUREKA NEWS

Interview with Member of the European Parliament and former French Minister Catherine Trautmann

date of publication > 12-April-2013

The Eurostars programme will be included in the EU research flagship Horizon 2020, which is in turn part of the European multiannual financial framework 2014-2020. Its budget, including the EU contribution to Eurostars, is currently under discussion by the European Institutions: the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament - each defending slightly different visions of the future of European innovation. The Parliament, the assembly representing European citizens, advocates for a bigger share of the multiannual framework programme to be dedicated to research. In a time when the European Parliament is fighting one if its fiercest battles, French eurodeputy Catherine Trautmann talks big money and the value of European cooperation with EUREKA.
 
Ms. Trautmann, we have seen recently China, the United States and also South Korea propose important increases to the research chapter of their national budgets. Is the budget for Horizon 2020 as it has been proposed by the European Council in line with the ambitions of Europe in the area of innovation?
 
At the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry Research and Energy (ITRE), of which I am a member, there is a large consensus across nationalities and political parties on the fact that the current budget for Horizon 2020 is insufficient, and in spite of important political pressures we have made this message clear to the member states. More than ever today we have to invest in competences, in education, research and in innovation, in order to generate employment. This is the main reason why we need the financial means to complete Horizon 2020.
 
In this regard, the budget demanded by the European Parliament (ed. 100 billion euros) is higher than the one proposed by the European Commission, which is of 80 billion euros, or the budget recommended by the European Council (70 billion euros). We have now as part of the Horizon 2020 envelope a few new items such as research in agriculture or technological development in security, and no cuts in the older programmes to compensate for those add-ons.
 
Research and innovation have a fantastic leverage effect, one euro invested in this field creates seven to fourteen euros in outcomes for society. With a pledge to invest 100 billion in Horizon 2020 the European Parliament wants to develop a chain of value by investing in a programme that actually produces value more than others do, mostly through allowing the development of prototypes and pre-market research projects.
 
EU member states are not coherent in their action, as they do not recognize the need to finance through research the productivity needed for economic recovery. Now an EU budget will never replace or have the same effect as national budgets, but a strong EU budget has an effect on the consolidation of networks inside Europe and that is its main added value. The European Union has to continue making significant efforts to keep up with the competition of countries such as the United States, China and South Korea, which have considerably increased their budget for research in the recent years. 
 
EUREKA was established on the idea of supporting innovative and close to market R&D projects by facilitating access to national support instruments. Which place does inter-state cooperation hold in Horizon 2020?
 
Horizon 2020 is a strategic investment for member states, allowing them to develop projects of a significant size. The FET flagship project on graphene and the human brain project under the same initiative are good examples, as they both received one billion euro in financing from the current framework programme for research.
 
I see also two other reasons for member states to cooperate at the European level. First, efficiency gains through economies of scale, by the combination of capital value and intellectual property coming from different parts of Europe. Europe favours the existence of networks in spite of the competition that can occur between states or amongst companies in the same sector of activity. Secondly, the ERA (ed. European Research Area, a single market for researchers) is currently the only powerful and integrated mean to take a person and the idea it carries from basic instruction to academic education and all the subsequent steps that will end in a finished product. The ERA favours the mobility of researchers but also the attractiveness of Europe for scientists, stopping the brain drain.
 
You are a strong supporter of the possibility to combine the resources available for research and innovation infrastructure within the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with the funds available for research development within Horizon 2020. Why is it so important?
 
The European Member states have given a negative opinion on the possibility to combine regional funds with the funds dedicated to research through Horzion 2020, which is not possible under the current framework programme. This is a decision I regret as it would be a way to better use regional funds, which have become over the years a way to fill holes in various local budgets. This would mean a better use of public funds with the objective of economic recovery and the establishment of skilled workers in Europe. From the perspective of participants in European research projects, this would mean that in a limited period of time they could develop a new infrastructure for research and simultaneously start to develop new technologies by using this infrastructure.
 
The Eurostars programme is directly managed by EUREKA, and partly funded by its member national innovation agencies, but as a joint initiative it still relies for 25% of its financing on the European Institutions. What is the general feeling at the moment on the Eurostars programme within the European Parliament?
 
It is a programme that we know and that we want to extend. It has been suppler than others in its capacity to set projects in motion. Like most instruments that are part of the current framework programme, Eurostars reaches its objectives and is useful. It is a good way to mobilise companies and integrates a good management of the costs by the project participants starting at the application stage.
 
The projects developed are market-oriented, centred on industry-academia collaborations and based as much on ideas emerging from a need identified by an industry, as from the proposition of a research team. This type of programmes, more visible maybe than other instruments delivering projects of a bigger size, is a useful tool to accompany a technological development process.