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High-level conference ‘EU Research and Innovation in our daily life’


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Carlos MOEDAS, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation;

Heinz FASSMANN, Austrian Minister for Education, Science and Research;

Jerzy BUZEK, Chair of the ITRE Committee;

Henryk Skarżyński, Director of the World Hearing Center in Kajetany, Poland;

Luigi NALDINI, Professor at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan;

Marijke GEENS and Hein MOREELS, parents of Margaux;

Bertrand PICCARD, UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment;

Michele PUNTURO, Professor of Physics and member of the team awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of gravitational waves.


It is a great pleasure to welcome to the European Parliament’s Chamber today more than 1000 members of the public, researchers, scientists, lawmakers and entrepreneurs.

Together with Commissioner Moedas, I wanted to organise this conference in order to emphasise just how important investment in research and innovation is, both for our citizens and our firms.

First and foremost, ordinary Europeans are looking to us to create jobs and in so doing offer coming generations real prospects.

If we want to strengthen our industrial base and ensure that high value-added jobs are available, if we want to keep pace with the far-reaching changes happening all around us, we must make innovation our focus.

Our ambition must be to become the largest and most attractive research area in the world.

Creating, innovating, developing technologies, all these are part of our DNA. Ulysses, the protegé of Athena, who used his intellect to overcome daunting challenges, was the first true European hero.

Thales, Pythagoras, the first Greek mathematicians and, later, Socrates and Plato, putting behind them the relativism of the Sophists, laid the philosophical foundations for the search for truth and scientific knowledge.

Archimedes of Syracuse and the great Roman engineers translated calculations and designs into works of extraordinary modernity.

The Benedictine abbeys and the universities preserved that knowledge, which formed the basis for the Renaissance.

Drawing on Socrates’ discoveries, Galileo and Descartes created modern scientific method.

That moment marked the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between science, technology and industry which has made Europe the cradle of every technological and industrial revolution.

From the early 1980s onwards, the European Union has focused on a programme of European research and innovation which boosts national research programmes by generating synergies and economies of scale. Since 1984, we have invested more than EUR 200 billion.

This investment has had an extraordinary multiplier effect on competitiveness, exports and our capacity to innovate and develop new technologies. We have created millions of new jobs and supported a network of world-class researchers, universities and research centres.

More than 45 000 researchers have been involved in the Horizon 2020 Programme, which has funded more than 18 000 projects.

EU research programmes have helped many of our Nobel prize winners.

We have played our part in extraordinary scientific discoveries which have improved our quality of life.

There is no area which has not benefited from European research: medicine, pharmaceuticals, food safety, the environment, energy, combating ageing, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence, transport, space, defence, security and cybersecurity, to name a few.

Today we will be presenting some of European research’s success stories, results achieved by virtue of your vital contributions.

We will show how, thanks to European research, the Ebola vaccine was discovered; how ways were found of preventing and dealing with tumours and saving thousands of lives; how new treatments were developed to combat immune deficiency and the ageing process; how artificial limbs and organs were invented to improve or save the lives of thousands of people.

Many European discoveries have been crucial in safeguarding the future of our planet. I am thinking, for example, of the invention of biodegradable plastics, of recyclable materials, of technologies to reduce emissions, of clean energies and energy efficiency.

EU research programmes have made it possible for persons with a disability to run marathons and for us to protect our historical and cultural heritage more effectively.

Space research and our Galileo and Copernicus satellite fleets have given us a hugely precise GPS system and high-definition maps for civil protection operations.

Investing more in research and innovation

Over the last few decades, new competitors have sprung up alongside the USA and Japan.

The most successful is China, which now invests as much in research and development as the Union as a whole.

As a result of that investment, in universities as well, China now accounts for more than 16% of scientific publications, as against only 1% in the 1980s.

That success has had repercussions in all sectors. Take the example of smart phones and computers: Chinese manufacturers, which started out as simple suppliers of parts for others, have overtaken giants such as Nokia and Ericsson. The same thing is happening in the automotive sector, with the trend towards e-cars and assisted driving.

But China is not alone. The world top six also includes Japan, South Korea and India. Asia has overtaken Europe and North America as the leading continent in the area of research and development. Our continent has fallen to third place.

We cannot keep losing ground. It is only by reversing that trend and investing more that we can take up the gauntlet thrown down by our traditional competitors and the emerging powers. It is the only way that we can remain competitive in strategic sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, mechanical engineering, robotics and aeronautics and improve our performance in the areas of digital technologies and biotechnologies.

The Commission’s proposal to increase the budget for the Horizon Europe Programme to almost EUR 100 billion is a step in the right direction. But it is not enough. Parliament is calling urgently for a more ambitious approach. Our proposal, adopted on 14 November 2018, is to increase the resources set aside for the programme to EUR 120 billion.

A policy-driven budget attuned to citizens’ priorities

If Europe is to be more effective, one of the first changes must be to have a more policy-driven budget properly attuned to citizens’ priorities.

To better harness economies of scale and European added value, including in the field of research, we must ensure we have joint resources commensurate with the challenges we face.

We need additional resources for innovation, These are essential if we are to:

support the real economy, SMEs, industry, agriculture and services, and protect our historical and cultural heritage;

keep pace with the digital revolution and focus on the circular economy and energy transition;

better protect our citizens and Europe’s borders;

develop security, cybersecurity and space technologies and a European defence industry.

Parliament has called for resources totalling 1.3% of gross national product to be made available to increase funding for innovation. This is to be done not by increasing already high levels of taxation, but by making sure that those who are not paying their taxes today do so in the future, starting with the web giants and tax havens.

The Member States must play their part – not just by agreeing to an ambitious EU budget, but also by investing more at national level. Only a few Member States currently meet the EU target of spending 3% of their GDP on research. It is no accident that these are the Member States which are performing best economically.

Better targeting

Not only must we invest more, but we must also invest better. Europeans often excel in academic research and basic research, producing top-class publications.  But we do not always manage to translate our investments into tangible results for European industry and on the world markets. Our competitors, led by China, are more pragmatic.

It is a good thing, then, that support for innovation close to the market and to business is being provided under the new Horizon Europe Programme. We must never forget that one of the main goals of EU investment is to generate competitiveness and jobs.

We also need a more closely integrated EU market, which makes for economies of scale and helps technology start-ups to develop. And we also need a more effective system of funding for innovation, and to adopt a  different approach to risk, based perhaps on the US venture capital model.

Innovation must also be taken into account in public procurement procedures and should benefit from preferential tax arrangements.



Research, innovation, training and industry are inextricably linked. 80% of all innovation springs from industry. Ongoing dialogue between universities, research centres, training establishments and businesses is the key to an innovative and competitive economy.

Any undermining of our universities and industrial base will mean forfeiting the driving force behind innovation and training and risking economic decline.

Support for this vision of a more dynamic Europe, a Europe of innovation, will be one of the issues on which we vote in a few months’ time.

We will have a choice between radically different visions of the future. On the one hand, there are those who think they could do better by reverting to national systems and approaches. On the other, there are those who believe that cooperation between states, and between universities and researchers, is the best way to protect Europeans and promote excellence on our continent as we contend with the giants of this world.

Research relies above all on the drive of the many enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, determined and talented women and men involved in it. Never stop putting questions to yourselves, never stop trying and trying again. My thanks, and the thanks of this Parliament, go first and foremost to you.

I know full well that working in the field of research and innovation in Europe is not always a bed of roses. Sometimes funding is in short supply and laboratories and appropriate facilities are lacking. Your salaries are not always what they should be. 

Unfortunately, owing in part to these shortcomings, many of you look for better environments outside Europe in which to continue your work.

This brain drain leaves us all worse off.

We must make sure that those who have left can return. We must make you feel that Europe is your home, and the place you can harness your full potential and fulfil your dreams.

Europe needs you in order to grow.

My pledge to you is that you can rely on the full support of this Parliament.

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