European research chief calls for innovation funding body

Europe’s research commissioner wants to set up a European innovation council to fund excellent innovators, in the same way that the European Research council backs excellent scientists - Nuala Moran, Science Business.

Carlos Moedas, pictured, the European commissioner for research, innovation and science, has called for the creation of a European Innovation Council – a new funding body to support applied research – that will aim to mirror the European Research Council’s success as a funder of excellent basic science.

In what sounded like a direct criticism of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Moedas said: “Europe does not yet have a world-class scheme to support the very best innovations in the way that the European Research Council is the global reference for supporting excellent science.”

Moedas told the European Commission’s Innovation Conference in Brussels: “I would like us to take stock of the various schemes to support innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises under Horizon 2020, to look at best practice internationally, and to design a new European Innovation Council.”

The suggestion of a European Innovation Council was the centre piece of what can be seen as Moedas’ manifesto for his term in office, following eight months of what he described as “listening, visiting member states, looking at the evidence, and developing my own views”.

In his keynote speech, Moedas said the idea for the new innovation funding 
body should be taken forward as “a major element” under the mid-term review of Horizon 2020. In the mean-time, he would be working to chart a new path for European research and innovation policy that was “fit for a world that is open, digital and global”.

He said this would start the second chapter in the development of the European Research Area. After 15 years devoted to creating the physical infrastructure and regulations to support cross-border mobility for researchers, it was time to open up research and innovation systems further by bringing together the physical and the digital, and to recognise there was a revolution happening in the way science worked.

“Every part of the scientific method is becoming an open, collaborative and participative process,” he said, intoning a new mantra: “Open innovation, open science, openness to the world.”

The commissioner said he would like to go “further and faster towards open innovation”, involving more people – researchers, entrepreneurs, users, governments and civil society. “We need open innovation to capitalise onthe results of European research and innovation. This means creating the right ecosystems, increasing investment, and bringing more companies and regions into the knowledge economy.”

The first requirement was to do more to create a regulatory environment in which innovation could flourish. “How do we make sure legislative processes that take several years can adapt to technologies that evolve every month? How do we make sure regulation is based on an innovation principle, as well as a precautionary principle?”

He also wants to address the shortage of venture capital in Europe “head on” through the development of one or several European funds of funds. And he said new actions were needed to get more innovation impact out of Horizon 2020. Competition for funding is increasing, with new data showing the average odds of getting a grant from the EU’s €77bn ($84bn) Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme have fallen to between 12% and 14%, down from 19% to 21% just two years ago.

Moedas also set out an ambition to see the European Research Council’s standing as a beacon of excellence replicated throughout Horizon 2020. To lay the ground for this, the European Commission is preparing a call for the European Science Cloud Project to provide more open access to research results and underlying data. This would mean setting standards for the management, interoperability and quality of scientific data.

In addition, the commission is looking to improve the standing of the research it funds, with Moedas saying a new European Research Integrity Initiative, with clear standards and mechanisms to tackle scientific misconduct, would be launched by the end of this year. “This will not only boost scientific excellence, but it will show the public that European science is above reproach,” he said. 

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