Europe needs to step up its innovation performance
May 20, 2014
EU innovation policy does not measure up to that of countries in Asia or Brazil. Fundamental knowledge is not always translated into products, while business investment in innovation has by and large been declining. MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij said before addressing the alumni network meeting 'EU Innovation Policy' on Tuesday, May 6.
According to Van Nistelrooij, businesses have put innovation on the back burner. Knowledge is transferred to other countries that have the ability to translate that knowledge into real products. "Our 2014-2017 plan recognizes this and therefore puts industry - not the universities - in the lead. This will provide greater access to grants for SMEs."
Grants for Smart Specializations
During an alumni network meeting, Van Nistelrooij (ranked seventh on the European electoral roll for the CDA) defined the objectives of Europe's innovation policy and how businesses can engage in it. In recent years, he has advocated for more funding for Smart Specializations, partnerships between research bodies and businesses focused on a specific industry.
A number of these types of partnerships are already in place in the Netherlands. A well-known example is Brainport. Or the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Bio Science Park in Leiden is another example. These initiatives compete for the grant fund of EUR 300 billion. The EU distributes the grant by country. In the Netherlands, the grant is tied to the top sector policy.
Van Nistelrooij has long been an advocate for the inextricable link between fundamental knowledge and product development. "Industry should be in the lead for grants, not the universities. This policy has helped us to increase SME access to finance through loan guarantees issued by the EU to banks that are keeping credit tight." Within the EU, there are different views on innovation; the previous EU Commissioner, for example, was a staunch advocate of fundamental research. "It is a philosophy. Countries must take a different approach to dealing with grants. It is clear that road funding is going to run out. If you give money for a knowledge center, there is a chance that the grant will be returned to the EU if the project fails."
Application of knowledge
A region, which has a concentration of top sectors collaborating on a common goal, may be eligible for such a grant. "That is possible through open innovation. By working together with schools in the region. Not only to develop new knowledge, but also to apply it in practice. How does specialization fit within the ecosystem of education?" Van Nistelrooij finds the Automotive Campus in Helmond a good example of a well-balanced ecosystem.
The first grants have currently been awarded to a project in Denmark. While there are a number of applications from the Netherlands, no project has been approved yet.