Invigorating European R&D

Compared with R&D powerhouses such as the US and Japan, a number of countries in Europe have low R&D spending levels. Many of the newly elected leaders of European nations emphasized the importance of improving R&D performance during their campaigns. IBO examined three countries that have recently elected new leaders to determine how well these new governments have delivered on their promises to make changes in their countries’ R&D programs. Spain With the election of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2004, many Spanish scientists expected immediate positive changes. But after the Zapatero government’s first full budget was announced in late 2004, Nature reported on the disappointment expressed by researchers: while the budget boosted overall R&D substantially, much of the funding went to defense spending. Interest-free loans for R&D also made up a considerable portion of the R&D budget increase. While these loans aided private companies and foundations in augmenting their R&D programs, many researchers lamented the lack of direct funding for universities and public research centers. This is a common situation for European politicians attempting to improve overall R&D performance: while making R&D investment more attractive to private companies with financial incentives, they must balance the need to keep the scientific community at universities and public research centers content. However, less than a year later, Mr. Zapotero instituted a significant effort to improve Spanish R&D: Ingenio 2010. The program, announced in June 2005, has a number of goals, including the achievement of R&D funding levels equal to 2% of the country’s GDP by 2010, with 55% of this funding coming from private industry. Ingenio 2010 is composed of four different components. The CÉNIT (National Strategic Consortiums for Technological Research) Program seeks to organize cooperation between the private and public sectors. The CONSOLIDER Program is tasked with creating large-scale research groups and increasing staff size at universities and public research institutions, and has a budget of €80.5 million ($110.9 million) for 2007. CONSOLIDER provides €1–€2 million ($1.4–$2.8 million) in funding over five to six years for a variety of large-scale research projects. The EUROINGENIO Plan’s goal is for Spain to generate an 8% return on the Framework Program 7’s budgeted €51.5 billion ($71.0 billion) during the years 2007–2013; the plan has a 2007 budget of €15.6 million ($21.5 million). The AVANZ@ Plan is designed to improve Spanish information technology. Nature reported in March 2007 that civilian R&D funding has doubled since Zapatero took office in 2004. There is still work to be done, though: as of 2005, R&D funding totaled only 1.03% of Spain’s GDP, and private sector funding represented 46% of this total (see IBO 6/15/07). In addition, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Spain’s main governing body of research, is managed by an inefficient bureaucracy within a government ministry and its employees cannot be fired. A law was passed in 2006 that, in principle, allows certain government agencies, including the CSIC, to function with greater autonomy. This year, a proposal for a more independent CSIC was presented for government approval this spring. The proposed restructuring would give the CSIC president greater authority and allow the Council to negotiate contracts with scientists. While Mr. Zapotero’s government is still far from achieving its goals, it has deployed a well-organized array of structures to assist it in achieving these goals. Italy When Romano Prodi was elected prime minister in May 2006, his government inherited two major research policies: the National Research Program (PNR) 2005–2007 and the National Reform Program for Innovation, Growth and Employment (PICO). PNR is a planning document for developing Italy’s research programs that is rewritten every three years. PICO is a wide-ranging economic program whose research components include the establishment of 12 public-private laboratories and the execution of PNR strategies, such as programs for nanotechnology and biotechnology development. PICO has a 2005–08 budget of €9.3 billion ($12.8 billion) for R&D activities. Unfortunately, Italy has had a long history of creating reforms that don’t go very far; for example, the National Research Council (CNR) has been reorganized three times in the past 10 years without much of an effect. While Prodi’s government ran on a platform that promised to boost R&D spending as a percentage of GDP from 1.1% in 2004 to 3% by 2010—an ambitious goal, to say the least—the 2007 finance bill did not increase funding for universities or research centers. In addition, Fabio Mussi, the head of the university and research ministry, lowered the R&D target to 1.5% within five years. However, some legislation was passed to stimulate private companies’ R&D activities: in December 2006, a law was passed that provides companies a tax allowance of 10% of research costs; this allowance is increased 15% for research contracts with universities or public research centers. Since this May, Luciano Modica, the undersecretary of state for research, has been attempting to push a law through parliament that would hold universities and research institutes accountable for the quality of their research by allowing the government to provide extra funding for successful institutions and withhold money from poorly performing ones. This law is connected with Mr. Mussi’s call for the creation of a new agency, ANVUR, that would evaluate and administer the funding of universities and research agencies. Italy’s track record for research reform has not been strong; it remains to be seen whether or not Prodi’s government will be able to reverse historical trends. France Nicholas Sarkozy was elected president in May 2007. Of the three countries, France has the most robust economic indicators for R&D. In 2005, France’s R&D spending totaled 2.13% of its GDP, with 55% of this total coming from private investment. There is currently a tax credit for companies involved in research, but this credit is primarily a benefit to larger firms. Mr. Sarkozy, who was formerly the minister of the interior, was a primary architect of the “competitiveness clusters” program (see IBO 7/31/06), which was designed to boost industrial development in France and to create links between private industry and universities and public research centers. The competitive clusters program is also designed to provide financial support for small- and medium-sized enterprises that would not benefit from the tax credit. Sarkozy campaigned on a platform of bringing R&D levels in France to 3% of GDP by 2012, and he emphasized the importance of life sciences, nanotechnology, and environmental and energy technologies. In June, at a ceremony in honor of a French Nobel Prize recipient, Sarkozy delivered a speech in which he promised large-scale reforms of universities and research institutions. He said that the majority of the additional research funding would go to project-oriented research and that strict standards for evaluations would be put in place for these projects. As of July, a bill has passed Sarkozy’s cabinet that will give France’s universities control over their budgets and payrolls, which are currently under the control of the ministry of higher education and research, currently headed by Valérie Pécresse. Mr. Sarkozy has also promised an increase of €5 billion ($6.8 billion) for the universities over the next five years. François Fillon, the new French prime minister, has declared the future of France’s universities to be his most important priority, in keeping with Sarkozy’s presidential platform during his campaign of making the universities the center of the French research system. While it is still early in Sarkozy’s tenure, he has already been able to fulfill some of his campaign promises.

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