The Future of EU Research: The Innovation Union and European Innovation Partnerships

The Innovation Union

The Innovation Union is one of the European Commission’s 7 ‘Flagship Initiatives’ launched under Europe 2020 in October 2010 as part of the EU’s new growth and jobs strategy. The initiative sets out a range of non-binding policy proposals and recommendations which will form the basis of the EU’s research and innovation activities over the medium and long term, influencing the next Research and Development Programme (FP8) from 2014-2020.

The Innovation Union was developed due to Europe’s need to boost research and innovation performance to support sustainable growth and create jobs that will withstand the pressures of globalization. It has also been designed to redress the declining share of knowledge production and imbalance in R&D investment which has put the EU in danger of falling behind countries including the US, China and Japan. Currently the EU spends 0.8% GDP less in R&D than the US and 1.5% less than Japan whilst our current rate of below 2% still falls behind our target of 3%.

The policies in the Innovation Union Plan aim to do three things: make Europe into a world-class science performer; revolutionize the way public and private sectors work together, notably through Innovation Partnerships; and remove bottlenecks – like expensive patenting, market fragmentation, slow standard setting and skill shortages – that currently prevent ideas getting quickly to market.

It builds on the work around the European Research Area (ERA) which was launched in 2000 and aimed to remove barriers to transnational R&D, programmes and policies. Under the Innovation Union a ‘European Research Area Framework’ is to be issued in 2012 with the aim to be operational by 2014 to remove the remaining obstacles to researcher mobility, support cross-border co-operation. The framework will develop common approaches to doctoral training, remove barriers to research mobility and to support cross-border co-operation for academia, SMEs and government funding agencies to ensure consistency between EU and national strategies, reinforcing the recent shift towards a focus on the grand societal challenges such as our ageing society and climate change.

European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs)

European Innovation Partnerships will act as a framework bringing together major EU activities and policies and covering the whole spectrum from research to market. They will not act a new instruments, nor have any other funding attached to them, but will bring together main actors, policies and actions at EU and national levels, from research to market, around common objectives to address major societal challenges more effectively.

The first EIP is on Healthy Ageing and will aim to increase the average number of healthy life years by 2 and reinforce sustainability and efficiency within healthcare systems. The partnership will operate through FP7/8 joint programming between national government funds, structural funds and European Investment Bank funds. It shall include governments, universities, health and social care professionals, industry (pharmaceutical/ medical biotech, ICT) and third sector organisations.

Other European Innovation Partnerships will emerge later covering the following themes:

  • Sustainable supply of raw materials for a modern society and resource efficiency;
  • Water efficiency and water security;
  • ‘Smart cities’ encompassing energy efficiency, ICT and urban transport; and
  • Resource efficiency for sustainable and productive agriculture.

The Innovation Union and future opportunities for Lincoln

The East Midlands European Office briefing on the Innovation Union emphasised the role of design in innovation and commercialisation of research processes, and highlighted this as a major interest for universities in a DMU-led and EMEO facilitated event on design in June 2010. This has been recognised by the Commission and the role that creative industries play in the innovation process has been emphasised in the Innovation Union. The Commission also highlights the role of social innovation and the role the third sector can play in facing global challenges in bringing about behavioural changes to combat issues such as climate change. The Commission proposes to launch a European Social Innovation Pilot to allow social entrepreneurs and the public and third sector to network with each other.

The focus on Grand societal challenges, reflected in the themes of the EIPS, offers the opportunity for a wide range of disciplines to be involved in future major European research programmes. The Innovation Union also provides a clear vision of where future research and innovation will be concentrated in coming years which allows us to start to prepare for future changes in European research and innovation funding.

The proposals of the Innovation Union clearly show the direction of FP8 with a clear focus on grand societal challenges with fewer but larger scale initiatives. European Innovation Partnerships will offer opportunities for public, private and third sector involvement with opportunities to engage with the Social Innovation pilot. This is an ideal opportunity to consider ways to adapt to the future EU funding landscape and to engage with new initiatives in the months ahead.

Opportunities for the East MidlandsEngage with the emerging FP8 and grand challenges agenda; New pre-commercial procurement and R&D procurement vehicles will provide opportunities for local authorities to stimulate local economies;

European Innovation Partnerships will engage a range of organisations including public, private and third sectors;

The Design label and Leadership provide tailored opportunities for East Midlands Universities to share best practice;

Engage with the Social Innovation Pilot and research programme on public sector and social innovation.

The European Commission is currently seeking the views on the new European Innovation Partnerships, EIP, as well as how Europe could scale up innovation to meet the challenges of the ageing population in Europe. The deadline to participate in the consultation is 28th January 2011. More details can be found on the Commission website.