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EU advisers: R&D investment is ‘insurance for crisis continuum’

Covid-19 must not be treated as a one-off incident, EU told

Investing in R&D should be framed as an insurance against the myriad crises European policymakers and society must prepare for, according to an expert panel on the socioeconomic impacts of innovation.

The Economic and Societal Impact of Research and Innovation expert group of high-level advisers to the European Commission said in a report published in late May that the Covid-19 pandemic “cannot be acted upon as a singular threat, but as one extreme event within a crisis continuum, which poses long-term risks to human health and livelihoods”.

This “could be framed as an imperative to direct a percentage” of the value of assets such as pensions, taxes, public infrastructure and natural resources “towards an investment in research and innovation that is in service of the future stability of ‘people, planet and prosperity’—a form of insurance to secure a smoother transition,” the Esir group said.

Such an approach would require a systemic transformation, according to the group. It said that failing to undertake systemic preparation for a continuum of crises “will exceed the capacity of public institutions, crisis managers and society at large to cope”.

“The need to address humanity’s vulnerability to systemic risks such as health pandemics, environmental crises and widespread cyberattacks must drive a research and innovation framework founded on the fundamental principles of collaboration, solidarity and accelerated learning for the benefit of all European citizens, countries and generations,” according to the group.

The 15-member group, chaired by experienced policy adviser Sandrine Dixson-Declѐve, recommended that the EU should “promote new forms of innovation and investment directed towards applied research and demonstration, rapid learning and reflection, including greater citizen engagement, so as to translate outcomes into impact”.

It offered 15 more specific recommendations, including stepping up horizon scanning and foresight, creating a European Crisis Map, increasing and better coordinating European and national research and innovation funding, and engaging more with citizens.

The group also said that next EU R&D programme, Horizon Europe, should be implemented “in a way that facilitates on-the-ground experimentation, project portfolio management and exploitation of results”.