European R&D investment levels 'stagnating'

A report into the European Union's research and development investment as a proportion of GDP has noted 'stagnation', particularly when compared with the US, Japan and Korea
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The number of science and technology researchers in Europe is increasing, but the European Union is still far from reaching its research and development investment targets, the European Commission has warned.

The Science, Technology and Competitiveness key figures report 2008/2009, published on Thursday, showed how just 1.84 percent of European gross domestic product (GDP) was being spent on R&D in 2006 — as the proportion is almost identical to that being spent in 2000, the Commission described the situation in a statement as "stagnation".

At an EU summit in Lisbon in 2000, a goal was set for three percent of GDP to be spent on R&D by 2010 to make Europe "the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world". Since 2000, all European countries have increased their R&D investment, but overall no faster than their growth in GDP.

"In a time of crisis, it is not the moment to take a break in research investments and in innovation," the European commissioner for science and research, Janez Potočnik, and EU vice president Günter Verheugen said in the statement on Thursday. "They are vital if Europe wants to emerge stronger from the economic crisis and if it wants to address the challenges of climate change and globalisation."

Japan spends 3.39 percent of its GDP on R&D, South Korea spends 3.23 percent and the US spends 2.61 percent. China spends just 1.42 percent.

The report noted that Europe has been attracting a growing share of private R&D investment from US companies. "In 2005, US [foreign] affiliates made 62.5 percent of their R&D investments in the EU and only 3.3 percent in China," the Commission's statement read, adding that Europe "has also been attracting a growing number of [science and technology] professionals from third countries".

"The number of researchers has grown twice as fast in the EU as in the US and Japan since 2000, even if the share of researchers in the labour force is still lower," the statement said. "As regards impact of research, the EU still ranks as the world's largest producer of scientific knowledge (measured by publications), but contributes less than the US to high impact publications."

A major reason for the stagnation in R&D investment proportionate to GDP, according to the Commission, is a decreasing level of business R&D investment — mainly because Europe has a much smaller tech sector than the US. Therefore, the Commission recommended policies that "favour the development of fast-growing high-tech SMEs, the development of innovation-friendly markets in Europe and cheaper access to EU-wide patenting".

"The EU does have many assets, notably an increasingly attractive European research area and a continuously improving innovation performance," Potočnik and Verheugen said in their statement. "But there is still work to be done, especially on the relative underinvestment by business."

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