EARTO Annual Conference 2017

Keynote by State Secretary Dr George Schütte, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, at the Sheraton Munich Arabellapark Hotel, Munich

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Minister Aigner, Mr Treppe, Professor Neugebauer, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It was the American author William Arthur Ward who once said:

“The pessimist complains about the wind;
the optimist expects it to change;
the realist adjusts the sails.”

Let's be honest: In today’s Europe we are living – for better or for worse – at a fantastic time for pessimists, optimists and realists.

Our continent is in a state of flux the likes of which have not been seen for a long time. Old certainties have been swept aside. People feel overwhelmed. Europe is currently engaged in political debates, quarrels and struggles unknown for a long time. And it's not only in politics – it’s happening in all parts of society.

Nobody can really predict what the future holds for us in Europe and beyond. The only thing we know for certain is that change will happen. In fact, change has to happen!

It is particularly important right now not to shy away from debate. This is about our core beliefs, that which is most important to us.

And that is why this conference comes at the right point in time.

I would like to address three issues which I consider very topical:

  • First, the scenario of a two-speed Europe
  • Second, our plans for the 9th Framework Programme
  • And third, the integration of the Framework Programme in Europe’s research and innovation system

Commission President Juncker's recently published white paper outlined 5 scenarios for the development of Europe. Research and innovation feature to varying degrees and forms in all of them. What is made clear is that we cannot do without the significant input from research and innovation at European level. Where else are the products, innovative services, and the basic findings that lead to new developments supposed to come from? All of these can only come from us – the people in the research community.

As you know, the debate about the future of Europe has focused particularly on the idea of a “two-speed Europe”. That idea is actually nothing new: a “core Europe” was first discussed in detail more than twenty years ago (1994 paper by Schäuble and Lamers), and concerned the greater integration of a few Member States.

I would therefore like to briefly take a closer look at our field, research and innovation. Let's face it: Europe is already moving at two speeds, even more so than 20 years ago.

Some of the states achieve the 3 per cent goal while others have still not done so after many years. Some are on one side of the innovation divide, facing the others on the other side.

And it is by no means easy to answer what more intensive cooperation in research and innovation would look like in practice – beyond the single market freedoms which also apply to our field.

Take a look at the “classical” ideas of a core, or two-speed, Europe such as the Schengen area, the monetary and economic union, and use it as our point of orientation: clearly we are talking about something else besides launching a couple of new bilateral or multilateral research initiatives in the European Research Area. We can already do that, and that would be no game changer.

What it really means for research and innovation is greater rapprochement, an opening-up, in some respects a merging of national science systems in order to achieve a supranational science system in Europe. It is about giving up national competencies in favour of a better common whole. The question is: do we want that?

We have been talking for years, for example about the hurdles in the retirement and healthcare systems between the states which are hampering the mobility of researchers.

The outcome? Nil.

One option is to create common retirement provisions or a “retirement area” for the scientific community for a certain core group (Germany, Austria, France, Netherlands, “Switzerland”).

Does the core group want to agree on one set of evaluation methods based on international standards which then become binding for our national programmes?

Have we got the strength and will to open our respective national funding programmes without reservation to applicants from all the states in the core group?

Do we agree that funding programmes in the core group will henceforth only be launched collaboratively in certain areas?

A lot of interesting options will be emerging in the near future, and I am looking forward to an exciting debate.

Please allow me to say a few words about the Framework Programme itself and its future:

The Programme has become quite large now, very large in fact. The first Framework Programme for Research had less than 4 billion euros available for allocation. That figure has risen to about 75 billion under Horizon 2020. The European Parliament is likely to propose 100 billion euros for the next Framework Programme.

German institutions and recipients receive more than 1 billion euros per year from the programme [28 February 2017: total of 3.54 billion euros]. Nearly one fourth of all the funding in Europe awarded in competitive procedures now comes from the EU. That is considerable leverage which has been created. It can be used to achieve a great deal in Europe. But the Framework Programme alone will not be enough.

Germany has a strong national system. The strength and creativity of our research landscape is fertile ground for innovation. Plus, we are strong at the European and international level precisely because we have a strong national system. We do not believe that the EU will or is able to solve the problems on our national level. Instead, we see the Framework Programme as strictly complementary.

The scale of the Framework Programme must not give rise to the Member States believing it can take the place of their flagging national efforts. Problems at the national level would not be solved even if the budget for the Framework Programme were increased to 200 billion euros. National reforms and national investments in research and innovation are the key elements for success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I keep on reading everywhere that “European added value must be clearly recognizable”. But this seems to have become a tired rote sentence.

It is my impression that we are gradually losing sight of what we mean to achieve by that. We are basing that notion on a time when European added value was associated only with transnational cooperation in collaborative projects. Nowadays, it also applies to funding for individuals, such as is the case of the ERC, where a global brand is being built up that is attracting researchers from around the world and has triggered competition among Europe's best institutions. The Commission also sees added value in individual funding for companies, for example with the so-called “SME instrument”. We reject that idea because this is something which the Member States can also do themselves.

The concept of European added value is becoming more and more vague.

If all we can say at the end is “anything goes, if that’s what the Commission wants”, then we are walking down the wrong path indeed.

If we conclude that “European added value” stands for the collective incapability of the Member States to take care of matters which they ought to be able to take care of on their own, Europe is sure to run into a problem.

The larger the dimension of the Framework Programme, the more difficult the debate about what we need at EU level to complement it. Maybe that debate would only become meaningful if, say, the FP9 budget were reduced to 40 billion euros. The glaring question would then be: “What is the necessary minimum at EU level”? We must not allow the debate about European added value, against the backdrop of an ever-burgeoning Framework Programme, to degrade into strictly academic rhetoric where the notion of European added value becomes arbitrary. The central questions are: Who is actually doing what and at which level? Which role are the Member States still playing in this respect? And how does European research and innovation funding advance the achievement of the European integration project overall? And how does it do that in a form which citizens can understand?

With that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I now turn to the Overall system and the challenges it faces.

The next Framework Programme runs the risk – because of its size and complex processes – of being isolated in the research and innovation landscape. Some Member States are no longer really able to handle such a complex funding system – I remind you of the two-speed Europe which we have already talked about.

We must realize that the Framework Programme cannot be treated as a separate entity but instead has a concrete and important function to fulfil in the overall system.

The Commission is not the 29th Member State. The Commission organizes and oversees European processes so that Europe, and thus first and foremost the Member States, can develop in the best possible way.

The next Framework Programme will therefore increase its focus on bringing the different operating levels closer together, that is to say the regional, national, European and international levels. We must stop viewing processes in isolation which belong together.

When we launch a campaign at national level – the problem of marine litter comes to mind – such an issue must of course also be reflected at the European and international levels. That is how we achieve maximum leverage effect. Speaking of the marine litter campaign, our efforts at national level were successfully taken up in the European JPI Oceans before this initiated an important process at G7 level. The leading role which Germany is playing within the JPI in research on microplastics has inspired the G7 to continue to give priority to this topic at the political level. Once again, it is about coordinating efforts, about complementarity.

Germany is currently in the process of further developing the High-Tech Strategy into a broad-based Innovation Strategy. This means we must also define what we require from the European level in the area of innovation to complement our national activities. Different lines of action must be linked together in a meaningful way while also working to further realize the European Research Area as the joint framework for action. I am therefore especially looking forward to Austria's Presidency which will devote itself to this issue. We in Germany will be focusing on this topic too. As you know, the ERA Roadmap, which reflects the joint goals agreed on by the Member States, is in effect until 2020, the year in which Germany assumes the Council Presidency.

The Commission must also grapple with the current 28, and soon-to-be 27, Member States in all their diversity. We must repeatedly ask if we ourselves are doing enough, or whether we would rather lean back and let the Commission do all the hard work.

Take this simple example: As you know, the Commission has proposed the establishment of a European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), which would compete with private-sector providers, particularly from the United States. For me, this is the most important digital infrastructure project of the coming years for Europe as a location for science.

But it is also the kind of project where we risk failing to accomplish it properly, in time, and with the right measure of ambition because it is so complex.

This is what is happening in Europe: in part it is working against itself, even the Directorates-General among themselves; getting things done takes too long; work processes are cumbersome; projects get bogged down in details, and then there's the never-ending dispute about funding.

I do not want this to happen to the EOSC. We Member States must assume some responsibility for this. It is our joint Research Area, and therefore it is our joint responsibility.

That is why I have launched a German-Dutch initiative together with my Dutch colleague Sander Dekker which is open to all the other Member States. We want to jointly drive this initiative so that we can quickly address and solve the basic questions concerning the Science Cloud.

It also means that we must agree beyond the national level on how we will handle scientific data. The “fifth freedom of the single market” – free movement of knowledge and innovation – is inextricably linked with this question. All the stakeholders – governments, public research and private companies – will have to review the positions they have held.

The time has come to take action.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We operate within a highly sophisticated system with different levels of action, a complex landscape of instruments and a vast number of players. We will only succeed if we operate the entire system in an efficient manner.

So, let's break out of our silos! We need to link regional, national, European and international processes more closely with each other. I mentioned the example of marine litter, which shows what we are able to achieve if all the levels are interlinked.

Let’s not leave it up to the EU alone to find the solution to our national problems in research and innovation. Only a strong national research funding programme can make European success possible. Drawing on its diverse and excellent research landscape, Germany has become one of the most productive and innovative societies in the world and, as such, has an advantage in the European competition.

Last but not least, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just as with the criterion of excellence, we must always keep in mind the European added value in our efforts at the European level.

Otherwise we run the risk that the next Framework Programme is degraded into nothing more than one giant funds distribution programme whose main criterion is its rate of return. We would be jeopardizing the enormous potential of the EU's funding for research and innovation.

Having said that, something very good may yet come of the crisis which Europe is collectively mired in, or of the enormous challenges and complex issues we face: and that is that they are challenging us! They are forcing us to question our traditional ways of doing things, and to remind ourselves of what it is that makes us strong and unites us.

I am quite certain that Europe stands to emerge from this phase all the stronger.

Oscar Wilde once said:

"Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it's not fine it's not the end."

And on that note, I wish us all a good time and the courage to face these times in which there is so much to discuss and to flesh out.

Thank you very much.