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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Europe moving in 'R&D slow lane'
Researcher holds wafer (BBC)
The EU desires to be a "leading global knowledge-based economy"
The stagnating state of science and technology investment in the European Union is laid bare by new statistics.

The figures show the bloc devoted just 1.93% of its wealth (GDP) in 2003 to this important area - compared with 2.59% in the US and 3.15% in Japan.

Some emerging Asian countries, such as China, are now increasing their R&D investment to a rate where they will soon catch and overtake Europe.

One factor in the stumbling performance is a slow-down in business R&D funding.

Europe is now on track to miss the so-called Lisbon objective of boosting its spend to 3% of GDP by 2010.

"We must heed this wake-up call," EU research commissioner Janez Potocnik said at a media conference in Brussels.

"If the current trends continue, Europe will lose the opportunity to become a leading global knowledge-based economy."

EU vs US

Perhaps the most startling comparison is with China. Although at 1.3%, its R&D funding is smaller than the EU's, China has been increasing that investment by about 10% per year.

"If these trends in the EU and China continue, China will be spending the same amount of GDP on research as the EU in 2010 - about 2.2%," Mr Potocnik said.

One worrying finding, said the commissioner, was that Europe was becoming a less attractive place to carry out research.

The figures show that between 1997 and 2002, R&D expenditure by EU companies in the US increased much faster than R&D expenditure by US firms in the EU (by 54% compared to 38%).

At the public level, research in Europe is funded by individual national agencies as well as through the EU's Framework 6 programme (FP6). This programme is about to be replaced with a Framework 7.

One of its key features will be the establishment of a European Research Council.

The ERC is envisioned as an independent, quality-driven funding body run by scientists, modelled on the US National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health.

Future shaping

Supporters argue that it will help drive up the competitiveness and, by extension, the quality of scientific research within Europe by giving a clearer focus to the way funding is distributed.

This week, its first Scientific Council members were announced. These individuals - all high profile scientists drawn from across the Union - will shape the ERC and the funding strategy it will assume.

Many are hopeful it will focus more on "blue skies", or pure, research.

Professor Wendy Hall, head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, at the University of Southampton, is one of two UK members of the Council; the other being Lord May of Oxford, the outgoing president of the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science.

"It is a great honour to be chosen as a founding member of the Scientific Council,' said Professor Hall. "This is an enormously important and timely initiative, and one that is strategically very significant for the future of European science and technology.

"The ERC will fund the best of European science and scholarship, and the opportunity to help shape Europe's research strategy through collaboration at such a high level is very exciting."

Euro science looks to new council
18 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature
Stakes high for EU science plans
01 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature

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