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Commission advised to change how it monitors EU R&D spending

Covid-19 stimulus money ‘risks being dispersed into thousands of individual, disconnected initiatives’, Commission warned

The European Commission has been advised to change how it monitors EU investments in research and innovation, to better keep track of the broader investment picture and progress towards ultimate policy goals.

“We believe that the Commission should update its framework for measuring progress, targeting directly the need for systemic approaches and outcomes in resilience, wellbeing and sustainability for the long term,” the Expert Group on the Economic and Social Impact of Research and Innovation (Esir) said in a report on the pandemic recovery published on 23 March.

The €1.8 trillion the EU will spend over 2021-27 from its budget and pandemic recovery fund presents “an extraordinary opportunity” to make the EU healthier, fairer and more sustainable, but also puts “a huge responsibility” on politicians and policymakers to make sure the money is well spent, said the expert group chaired by Sandrine Dixson-Declève.

Esir warned that the EU’s Covid-19 stimulus spending “risks being dispersed into individual, disconnected initiatives, distributed at the government level along ministerial or departmental lines”. It said that few of these efforts will bring about transformations in wellbeing or sustainability “because of the pressure to get money moving and the fact that there are few or no administrative precedents and tools for public spending at this scale that are fit for purpose”.

“As a result, investments risk being directed to short term fix-it solutions—the grey economy rather than a green recovery,” the experts warned.

They urged the Commission to look at questions such as what kinds of investments can generate the greatest long-term impact, how R&D organisations and other stakeholders can best feed in to policymaking, and how spending in an area such as supporting digitisation could affect efforts in other areas such as bolstering employment.