You were an EU Ambassador for Innovation during the 2009 European Year of Creativity and Innovation. What is your reaction to the European Commission's new 'Innovation Union' strategy?
The 'Innovation Union' strategy, as well as EU2020, lists many actions that would make Europe more competitive and more attractive for workers and capital. But most of the actions are outside the competence of the Commission and the experiences from the Lisbon Strategy demonstrate the difficulty of realising good intentions when national governments remain in charge.
In a period when national economies are threatened by the return of the financial crisis and the focus is upon reducing public deficits, the readiness to engage in a long-term strategy that would require public investments might be quite limited.
What had you hoped for?
The document – and this is equally true for EU2020 – tends to neglect trade-offs, dilemmas and conflict of interests and it presents Europe as if it were one cohesive, coherent and unified region. This is in contrast to reality, where the crisis has reinforced national governance aiming at strengthening the competitiveness of the domestic economy.
My view is that only a complete change of strategy - where the focus moves toward the regions, countries and social groups most exposed to globalisation and aiming at a higher degree of equity - can contribute to forming a sustainable Europe.
The common market is not a sufficient base for moving toward a 'European Nation' - the social dimension is missing. And without a move in that direction, transnational strategies developed in Brussels will not be successful.
Do you think the definition and approach to innovation taken in the Innovation Union is the right one?
The document reflects that it has been produced with the Commissioner of Science as primarily responsible – this is reflected in the terminology, where it refers to the 'research and innovation system'.
If you look closely you find that most relevant dimensions of the innovation process are covered but sometimes as 'additions' to the main line of argument, which links science and technology to economic performance.
The current success indicator – getting closer to 2% private and 1% public R&D as shares of GNP – will after two years of preparation be combined with one that measures the share of dynamic, innovative firms of the economy.
The other new policy concept refers to 'innovation partnerships' and would also be developed through a pilot project on 'healthy ageing'.
Are there any other weaknesses?
One major weakness with the document is that it has developed science and innovation policy as 'a general policy'. The fact that innovation processes take radically different forms in different sectors and in different regional contexts is not well reflected. This means that some recommendations are relevant for some sectors and technologies, while others are not.
The total set of recommendations is biased in favour on science-based activities as compared to sectors where innovation is learning-based. My guess is that nonetheless, the Innovation Union document will be generally well-received when presented to research communities, business communities and policymakers.
It does not propose anything that is controversial. The question is how it can be transformed into an operational form, where specific organisations and individuals are made responsible for the implementation of the strategy.
Are there any relevant international comparisons against which Europe can measure its new innovation strategy?
It is useful to compare the Innovation Union with the 15-year plan on science and technology development in China covering the period 2006-2020 (Gu et al, 2009). This plan was developed over a three-year period under the leadership of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. It has defined 99 specific tasks and each of these tasks is allocated to a specific organisation and with a single individual responsible for implementation.
As far as I understand the process, the original draft prepared under the auspices of the [Chinese] Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) was not accepted by the prime minister (himself a former professor in geology) because it was too general, and in a new round, the different authorities involved had to specify the tasks to be pursued.