Europe's R&D 'stagnant', says report

We're being left behind, people

If Europe wants to be at the forefront of a global "knowledge-based economy", it needs to seriously up its spending on R&D, according to a report published yesterday.

The European Commission warns that unless member states act to increase the proportion of their gross domestic product they invest in basic R&D, the EU will trail behind economies like Japan, South Korea, and the US.

As a whole, the EU puts less than two per cent of its GDP into R&D. Japan, by contrast, invests closer to 3.5 per cent. As things stand, only China and Russia invest proportionally less, but the report suggests that China will have caught up with EU investment by 2009.

Under the terms of the Lisbon Strategy, which EU member states signed up to in 2000, countries pledged to increase their R&D spending so that across the EU the figure reached three per cent of the union's GDP by 2010.

The aim of the strategy was to make Europe "the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world". Now, the target looks overly optimistic and the goal unlikely.

"Knowledge is a key component of competitiveness," said European science and research commissioner Janez Potocnik. "If our businesses are to be at the leading edge in the future, they need to invest in knowledge now. And governments need to put in place the appropriate measures to help them do so."

The report also shows that although the EU produces more scientific papers than the US, the impact of US research is far greater. It notes that the larger high tech sector in the US means there is more private funding of R&D, but adds that the different "industrial structure" of the two regions is also a factor.

So, without the US's high tech industry or "industrial structure", public funding on research becomes even more important. The report says current levels of investment must at least be maintained, if not increased.

Since 2005, member states have renewed their commitment to the Lisbon strategy and launched a new R&D framework, which has a much larger budget than its predecessor; but the impact of these changes is not seen in the current report, since they postdate the figures upon which it is based. The basic data underpinning the report only runs until the end of 2005.

If you are feeling strong, the full report is here. ®

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