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Horizon 2020 needs to kick-start innovation, urges report

Policymakers should concentrate funding increases for Horizon 2020 on innovation, not on basic research, according to a report from the Technopolis Group.

Increasing resources for “mission-orientated” R&D under the industrial leadership and societal challenges pillars would address the weaknesses of the European research and innovation system, says the report. In contrast, excellent science programmes such as the European Research Council do not require an increase in funding to continue their positive effects, it says.

“Innovation is what we need to address to grow our way out of the present financial mess,” says co-author Erik Arnold from Technopolis, an innovation policy consultancy. “That’s where the money should go.”

In the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 proposal, basic research would be mainly funded under the excellence pillar, but some funding would be available under the other pillars to cover the whole innovation chain.

But the report, commissioned by the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations and published on 4 December, warns that basic research is not always the direct precursor to innovation. It criticises the argument that Europe is not innovative enough because it fails to extract enough value from research.

“To be good at innovation you have to be good at innovation, and Europe’s problem is that we’re not,” says Arnold. “No amount of basic research funding will fix that.” Instead, it requires strengthening Horizon 2020 in areas such as technological research, product demonstration and competitive manufacturing, says the report.

Chris Hull, secretary-general of EARTO, says most governments of advanced economies spend only around 20 per cent of their total R&D expenditure on basic research. In comparison, the Commission plans to allocate 32 per cent of Horizon 2020’s budget to the excellence pillar alone.

Hull says that impending budget cuts mean policymakers will have to prioritise. “If Horizon 2020 is going to reach its innovation objectives it is going to have to be focused, and stay focused, on problem-solving research,” he says.