EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

EU spending on R&D


Regarding ‘EU spending on R&D slips further behind US‘:

Maybe if the private sector did not have to spend so much complying with the constant and growing flow of EU legislation they could spend more on R&D.

Charles Marriott

Author :


  1. The 3% is an easily memorable and therefore useful political target. However, we must look at its practical implications in a more careful and nuanced way.
    Simply to claim that a country with high R&D spending will become more competitive than another with lower spending (both expressed in percentage of their GDP) is too simplistic. Equally pointless is any exercise that looks at “divergence from the 3% Barcelona Target” in isolation. I would caution against such a simplistic “linear” approach. Yet, simple economic indicators fascinate many policy analysts.
    One must keep in mind that the figure of 3% has no scientific foundation. It is a pragmatic estimation (with other words, “qualified guesstimate”) by an expert group that carried out the “Second five year-assessment of the EU RTD framework programme” (chaired by Joan Majo in 1999-2000).
    Nevertheless, it has achieved its aim and succeeded in mobilising attention on R&D funding. Indeed, the progress towards the 3 % target from a lower figure can be considered as an expression for the ability and readiness to modernise the national science policy in question.
    As a general guiding principle, the 3% is useful and should remain in place.

  2. The EU’s aspiration to spend 3% of the Union’s GDP on R&D is meaningless in terms of beneficial outcomes unless it is used wisely and in a totally systematic way that creates future wealth. For if spent unwisely and flittered away, no benefit will accrue. Unfortunately this will be the truer case, as EU R&D is totally fragmented and mainly revolves in an isolated system of disjointed academic malaise. We in the EU truly have the cart before the horse as pet subjects and research that is determined without a business head included, simply goes nowhere. The reason, there are no outsiders welcome within the system presently and who are in reality the ones who have initially the great ideas that have transformed our world in the past. Our universities and corporate laboratories are full of stagnant thinking were technological research is just a job and goes on without relent to nowhere. Therefore no reason to kill yourself thinking up new ideas as you will get paid anyway. This is unlike the independent innovators and inventors of the EU (the world’s best according to international studies) who live and die in what they do but who according to the history of S&T, have created at least 75% of the modern world, if not more, through their initial fundamental thinking. This is what we have all forgotten as we need the brilliant ideas first and then let our universities and corporate laboratories take over. Today we have simply got the second stage with no new outside ideas coming through (those that change the world forever and create trillions of dollars in the process over many years). Consequently until we have the system in place of (1) Life-changing ideas people first and their new ‘virgin’ thinking (2) exploitation of these ideas and prototypes by our universities and corporate R&D centres and (3) the EU and EU businesses investing heavily in these new technologies/products to bring them to market, we simply will not excel in the global markets of tomorrow. Indeed we shall irreversibly stagnate economically and it is as simple as that. All we shall end up doing if we do not change our present system and fixed mindsets, is tinkering about in our laboratories and no more for every year that tour 3% is invested. But the most important factor that we have to take on-board is that we need to put in place as our ultimate priority, a pan-EU creative infrastructure for our initial ideas people (not for universities et al but for our creative people that are outside these non-performing economic confines) to provide the ‘initial’ seeds of economic dynamism. It is not myself that says this, but the history of S&T itself and where independent minds, outside the our universities and corporate research centres, are the ones that initially provide the breakthroughs – the people who have literally changed the world forever. This is what we have forgotten and where Europe’s ‘innovation chain’ has been and still is, stopped in its rigid tracks through non-creative entrenched thinking that has festered over many decades. We have therefore to stop all this and as a critical priority, put the horse (the independent inventors and innovators of the EU) in front of the cart. For if we do not, Europe’s 3% investment will simply be like flushing water down a drain with no ‘real’ long-term benefits whatsoever – simply a total waste of tens of billions of EUROs over the next 10 years as we shall have no real creative direction.

    Dr David Hill
    Executive Director
    World Innovation Foundation Charity
    Bern, Switzerland

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