The EU’s target for member states to invest 3% of GDP in research is not going to happen by 2020, according to the latest assessment by the European Commission. The European Semester, the EU’s annual analysis of the economic and social situation in Member States, says that on average EU countries are still under-investing in R&D and highlights some familiar shortcomings in member states’ science systems, in an attempt to guide countries towards a stronger performance.
Although member states attach an increasing role to research and innovation (R&I) policy as a competitiveness and growth enabler, more cooperation between science and business, is needed, even in some of the most advanced countries. Progress in improving the business environment and boosting R&D investment in the 28-nation bloc is varied.
Portugal occupies a very low (24th) position in innovation performance, while Austria, which ranks second among member states on public and private R&D spending, does not manage a matching performance in innovation. R&D spending in Austria as a percentage of GDP amounted to just over 3% in 2015, making it one of the few countries to exceed the Commission’s target. Finland, which is traditionally a big investor in research – among the highest in the world in fact – has seen its R&D budget shrink over the last few years, as it grapples with recession.
The legacy of the 2008 financial crisis continues to impede public investment in research in most member states – but particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. Lithuania’s science performance is performing poorly, with the volume of highly cited scientific publications falling during recent years. The majority of its R&D output is produced by public research institutions, with weak capacity to exploit results for economic benefits.
Romania’s science system remains confused, with more than 150 public institutions undertaking R&D; the Commission hopes that the planned creation of a National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy will help to bring some clarity to the situation.
Access to finance for small businesses is identified as the most important challenge in some member states. In Greece, for example, 30% of SMEs point to access to financing as their most serious problem, as do 25% of SMEs in Cyprus.
On a more encouraging note, the Commission finds most European governments are on the way to meeting the EU targets on emission reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The European Semester country reports are available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/2017-european-semester-country-reports_en