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No fresh cash for EIC pilot, Moedas says

Image: Friends of Europe [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Commissioner urges pursuit of disruptive innovation

Carlos Moedas, the research commissioner, has announced plans to refocus innovation funding towards more disruptive proposals during the second half of Horizon 2020.

The plan, presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy on 12 July, came after a year-long consultation on Moedas’s plans for a European Innovation Council. But it may disappoint supporters of the EIC concept who want to build a powerful counterpart to the prestigious European Research Council. The EIC pilot will have no budget of its own, won’t require any new legislation to implement, and may not outlast Moedas’ five-year term.

The 10 steps for establishing the EIC that Moedas presented include changing evaluation criteria for innovation projects to focus on high-risk, high-gain proposals; testing new instruments for helping to scale up such proposals; making the calls from the SME Instrument for smaller businesses more open; and creating a group of innovation policy advisers. The overall presentation of the instruments and the means for accessing them needed to be simplified, Moedas said.

Moedas told the committee that too many entrepreneurs were not aware that the EU provides innovation support, and that many of those who are aware find its offerings not fit for purpose. “The support schemes are too complex to navigate, too slow to implement and impose too many constraints,” he said.

Some innovation specialists have welcomed the plan. Delphine Manceau, dean of the European Business School in Paris and a member of the EU’s Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts High-Level Group, said that she felt “very positive” about the EIC. “Innovation has changed a lot in the past decade, so there’s a need for a new approach on innovation policy,” she said.

But Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at the University of Sussex in the UK, said that the EIC priorities were important but needed to be combined with broader measures to support innovation in Europe.

“There’s an assumption that business wants to innovate and invest and that you just need to get rid of impediments. But I think the much bigger problems in Europe are actually national cuts in public research, a financialised business sector, the lack of a procurement market and a lack of mission-oriented investments to tackle concrete problems,” she said.

Moedas sought to provide reassurance that the plan would not diminish EU support for research, saying that it was “emphatically not about switching budgets from research to innovation”.

Peter Oakley, chairman of the public sector and EU interest group at the UK’s Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations and an associate director of TWI, a research and consultancy organisation, said it was appropriate for public money to focus on disruptive innovation. “If an innovation is incremental and low risk, that’s where commercial money should be going,” he said. He added that he had no problem with the lack of extra money at this stage. “It would be foolish to allocate a huge amount more money without actually knowing how the whole system is going to work,” he said.

Chris Hull, former secretary-general of the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations, said that he thought the Commission would ring-fence a small part of the innovation instruments’ budgets to test Moedas’s plan, and then transfer some of these proposals to private investment.

“I could imagine something in two or three stages, with some initial public money to beef up or de-risk the concept and then tipping from public to private money at a later stage. I would have thought that if the public sector came in with 10 to 20 per cent to underwrite the risk at the second stage, that might work,” he said.

But Hull added that the timing of Moedas’s term raised a question mark over the future of the EIC. “He’s not going to be there to defend the EIC in the critical negotiation phase on the next Framework programme,” he said.

This article also appeared in Research Europe