• Team Owen Bonnici

A busy week for research and innovation in Europe



This was a very busy week for the future of research and innovation in the

European Union.  The Portuguese Presidency has to be given credit for putting a

lot of work into organising very focused and well thought debate fora at

Ministerial and technical levels to put the project of a renewed European

Research Area on a new level.


Since the adoption of a communication on a new European Research Area for

Research and Innovation by the Commission at the end of last year, on a EU

level we are pulling the rope in the same direction to improve Europe's research

and innovation landscape.  Of course, all this is taking place in a highly

competitive scenario where other continents elsewhere are embarking on very

ambitious reforms to have cutting-edge research ecosystems.


Through this new ERA we want to accelerate the EU's transition towards

climate neutrality and digital leadership, support its recovery from the societal

and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, and strengthen its resilience

against future crises.


The Commission has set out strategic objectives and actions to be implemented

in close cooperation with us Member States based on a three-pronged approach:

firstly to prioritise investments and reforms in research and innovation,

secondly to improve access to excellence for researchers across the EU and

thirdly enable research results to reach the market and the real economy. 

Additionally, the Communication communique states, the Commission will

further promote researchers' mobility, skills and career development

opportunities within the EU, gender equality, as well as better access to publicly

funded peer-reviewed science.


The current European Research Area is 20 years old and it can be safely said

that it has quietly been a game changer in the last two generations.  Yet, it needs

to change and improve, particularly so due to the coronavirus pandemic which

has brought about significant challenges across the board.  And, as we know,

the best remedy to overcome challenges is through research and innovation:

through them we can deliver recovery and speed up the twin green and digital

transitions.


We have four clear aims or goals and we are intent on achieving them on a

European level. These are:


  1. The prioritization of investments and reforms in research and innovation towards the green and digital transition, to support Europe's recovery and increase competitiveness.

  2. To improve access to excellent facilities and infrastructures for researchers across the EU.

  3. To transfer results to the economy to boost business investments and market uptake of research output, as well as foster EU competitiveness and leadership in the global technological setting.

  4. To strengthen mobility of researchers and free flow of knowledge and technology, through greater cooperation among Member States, to ensure that everyone benefits from research and its results.


There are various programs – and very substantial – of EU support towards

research and innovation, particularly Horizon Europe, the Cohesion policy and

the Next Generation EU. Member States must also play their part, and the

Commission believes in a target of 3% of GDP to be invested on EU research

and innovation by the relevant countries.  This is a very ambitious target

indeed, but much needed.


The bottom line is the principle of excellence: that the best researches with

the best ideas can obtain funding.


Not each Member State has the same investment in research and innovation. 

We have always pushed forward the argument that modest countries in research

and innovation have to be supported through tailor-made support on the

ground.  We have consistently argued that the doors must be opened so that

through high-level collaborations with more experienced counterparts,

improved access to excellence can be achieved.


In doing to so countries such as Malta must work hard to combat brain drain.  It

is very easy for a top notch Maltese researcher to go elsewhere in Europe or

outside Europe and that would mean that as a country we would have lost a

brilliant mind.  The solution to this is not, of course, to build walls but rather the

complete opposite, to allow the fullest mobility possible to these researchers so

that they remain based in our country because they would not feel the need to

relocate elsewhere.


These mobility schemes must not only be focused on academia but must involve

the industry as well.


It is crucial that these results must be transferred to the economy.  We believe

that research and innovation is key to boost business investments and market

uptake of research output. We want Europe to emerge as a leader in the global


technological setting.  If Europe emerges stronger, Malta will be part of a very

strong entity on a global scale.


Research results cannot and will not be transferred in the real economy by doing

nothing. One way how the EU is seeking to achieve that is through the new

Industrial Strategy which in essence is proposing that industry allows crowding

in more private investments in key international projects.  That way, through the

so-called common technology plans, competitive technologies can be developed

in key strategic areas and Europe will be more present globally.


Also, in parallel to this, networking frameworks must be developed.  These

facilitate collaboration and exchange of best practices.  The end game is the

valorization and reward of innovation while making sure that intellectual

property is protected without breaking the bank to do that.


The careers of researchers are crucial and important.  This is a subject which we

also discussed at Ministerial level this week.  It is crucial to foster career

development opportunities to attract and retain the best researches in Europe

and incentivize researchers to try out a career outside academia.


We are working together so that in three year’s time a toolbox of support for

researchers’ careers is launched.  This toolbox will have the following tools in

it: a Researchers Competence Framework to identify key skills and mismatches;

a mobility scheme to support exchange and mobility of researchers across

industry and academia; targeted training and professional development

opportunities under Horizon Europe; and, a one-stop shop portal for people to

more easily find information and manage their learning and careers.

This is a very concrete plan which we, as Europe, need to achieve.   To do that,

we have to work closely as Member States with each other and with the

European Union.  14 actions have been drawn up, linked to each other, and will

realize this new European Research Area.


One interesting aspect which I personally look at it with interest is the European

Forum for Transition which is a new strategic discussion forum which will

support Member State in the coherent implementation of these objectives.  Later

this year, there will also be the Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe,

which will be a pact entered into by the EU member States which will reinforce

our commitment to shared policies and principles and where we will indicate

the areas where we will work together.


We cannot build a green and digital Europe without education and training. 

These are fundamental to a successful new Research Area.  Digital Education is

an important pillar, while European Education Area is another important pillar

towards job creation and growth.


Malta is determined to be an active participant in the creation of this new

Research Area and we will punch above our weight.   To do that we have to

construct a robust ecosystem of innovation to foster better jobs and a future-

proof economy.

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