Europe must market and monetise its research better, says EU commissioner

Ireland’s history of innovation praised by new EU commissioner Carlos Moedas

The EU is very good at turning money into research discoveries but not so good at turning these discoveries into products and services – and this will have to change, according to the new commissioner for research, science and innovation.

Carlos Moedas joined Ireland's commissioner Phil Hogan to launch a €4 million Teagasc research centre in Fermoy, Co Cork last week. He praised the quality of research here but also Ireland's ability to commercialise the results of research.

Prior to his visit, Mr Moedas responded to questions from The Irish Times about EU research policy and how to address weaknesses in the system.

One of his priorities was to raise the levels of private investment in research and innovation across Europe.


"With public resources limited, it is even more essential to attract private R&D investment," he said. One way to achieve this was through the research budget Horizon 2020, with the public funding used to leverage larger investments involving the private sector, he said.

This could help overcome a reticence among companies to invest on their own in high-risk, high-investment areas, he said.

An investment plan presented by the commission and the European Investment Bank would help to raise more private investment for riskier projects that would benefit R&D across Europe, he said.

Long-term investment

“We want to create an environment that is friendly to long-term investment and can benefit research, innovation and science,” he said.

This approach was not intended to undermine the importance of fundamental research in favour of applied and near-to-market research.

“I’m of the view that they are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “Fundamental research is for me the stream that leads into the rivers of technology and innovation,” he said.

“But we have also to recognise that while the EU is efficient in transforming money into knowledge, we are not so good at transforming this knowledge into new products and services.”

Too often discoveries made in the EU ended up being brought to market by commercialisation in the US.

What was needed was a balance between basic and applied, while remembering that they were “intrinsically linked”. Europe needed to strengthen its capacity to innovate while at the same time “consolidate fundamental research as the flagship of Europe”.

Last Friday’s was Mr Moedas’s first visit to Ireland as a commissioner and he saw research in the agriculture and food areas related to the “new bio-economy”. This visit gave him an opportunity to learn more about Ireland’s approach to research funding, he said.

Like his home country Portugal, Ireland had “gone through a very difficult period of structural reforms but is now reaping the benefits of these”, he said. “Ireland performs well in terms of the quality of its science but also on its efforts to commercialise research.”

High visibility

Research and innovation had “received a high visibility in the new commission under president Jean-Claude Juncker”, and the research portfolio reflected the commission’s “core priorities” to restore sustainable growth, competitiveness and employment, he said.

He praised his predecessor, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, for having paved the way through the adoption of the Horizon 2020 research budget. It was now up to him to deliver the results, Mr Moedas said.

The programme showed its responsiveness given its ability to invest more than €200 million in support of Ebola research in the early days of his commissionership, he said. But there was room for improvement to make access to EU funding simpler and more open to newcomers. He planned to dismantle legal and administrative barriers and also saw “great opportunity to collaborate” at an international level.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.