With Europe said to falling behind when it comes to new tech research, Italians are being urged to back the EU's Horizon 2020 programme to help boost the continent's — and local businesses' — innovation.
Horizon 2020 is a European Union framework programme for research and innovation, one plank of ongoing EU efforts to improve Europe's global competitiveness.
The programme is aiming to promote growth and create employment in Europe, through measures such as grants, incentive awards and new calls for proposals on pre-commercial procurements (PDF), whereby public sector buyers invest in products before they're ready for commercial release.
The programme should begin in 2014 and run through to 2020, with a proposed budget of €80bn.
The EC expects €25.6bn of the budget to go to financing science research; a further €31.7bn to "address major concerns shared by all Europeans" such as climate change and the ageing population; and €17.9bn will go toward "strengthening industrial leadership in innovation", particularly by investing in key technologies.
The future of the programme was one of the main topics under discussion at the Technology Forum Ambrosetti, held recently in Castelbrando, near Treviso.
By putting money into research, Horizon 2020 could provide a much needed helping hand to businesses all across Europe, and particularly to the industrial hub of Northern Italy. Suffering from severe unemployment and economic problems, it's "on the brink of disaster", according to Giorgio Squinzi, president of Italian employers' union Confindustria, told the conference.
Europe is losing ground against global competition when it comes to tech research, according to the Italian Ministry for Education, trailing the US, Japan and South Korea on publishing scientific research and patents. Similarly, Italy is only considered a "moderate innovator" within the EU, with a low potential to export products based on tech. It's hoped that Horizon 2020 could play some part in turning that situation around.
At the moment, Horizon 2020 is only a proposal that's been put before the European Union. As a next step, the programme has to be approved by the European Parliament and finally the European Council.
"You must put pressure on your MPs," Renzo Tomellini, head of the EC's directorate general for research and innovation, said. "They must accelerate the process and keep the programme's proposed allocation of €80bn. These funds are needed to finance key research, to create technological solutions and provide continuous support for innovation, throughout all phases of value construction."
With many Italian businesses and even some larger multinationals still inward-looking and family-run, and in many cases failing to modernise, they're being outpaced by their overseas counterparts, unable to cope with the demands of international markets. Tomellini has a clear view on how Italy needs to change: "We must create flexibility and integration all across Europe, but keeping a stronghold on the core objectives. We must remember that innovation is not democratic: it creates inequality, profits, acceleration. It does not create a better world by itself.
"But what is set in the [Horizon 2020] framework programme is an innovation that aims to create a better Europe, more sustainable. You must be the center of the innovation process, you and your businesses,” he said, speaking to the invite-only audience of businesspeople and entrepreneurs. "It is a great opportunity and a stepping stone towards an internationalisation process for our country, to promote our local products on the global markets."