EU Aims to Unlock the Potential for Innovation

1 December 2009 was the date when the Lisbon Treaty came into force. It is aimed at streamlining the internal decision-making process to make the EU a more democratic, efficient and transparent union. Does this mean a more prominent role in facilitating innovation? asked the office of the EC Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, Vice President Gunther Vanheugen, to reflect on this question.

Why is innovation important for the 27 member states?

In a continent not particularly well endowed with natural resources, the ability to bring innovative products and services to the market is key to maintaining the competitiveness of our economies and generating growth and jobs. It is no coincidence that those countries with the most innovative economies are also those with the highest standards of living and highest prosperity levels. Public and private investment in research and innovation, particularly in a context of economic crisis, is crucial if member states are to generate high value added jobs and maintain the European social model.

The most innovative economies are also those with highest standards of living and levels of prosperity levels

What role do you see the Commission playing?

The Commission’s role in complementing national and regional policies in support of research and innovation, such as the establishment of the European Research Area or the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, has been very important.

It is probably fair to say that the launch of the five Joint Technology Initiatives would have proved more difficult without involvement of the European level. The Commission is well placed to facilitate policy learning and benchmarking, and to contribute to discussions about how to make policies more effective and more reflective of the changing nature of innovation.

What has the EU done to facilitate innovation?

In recent years, there has been a significant change of emphasis in EU Cohesion Policy, with €86 billion earmarked from the Structural Funds for the period 2007-2013, to support research and innovation at regional level.

Through the financial instruments under the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP), the European Investment Fund has been easing access to finance for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) before and during the financial crisis. The Enterprise Europe Network, also funded under the CIP Programme, is providing local support to SMEs – from finding technology partners in other member states to accessing funding programmes. In areas such as cluster policy, the EU level provides platforms and tools to help regions to work together better and strive for excellence in the management of their industry clusters.

There is still room for improvement in unlocking the innovation potential of Europe

However, there is still room for improvement in unlocking the innovation potential of Europe. The forthcoming European Innovation Act will be an opportunity to bring a better focus and scale to European policy intervention. This new innovation policy, which is scheduled for adoption during the Spanish Presidency, will orient support for innovation to tackling pressing societal challenges, adopting a wider understanding of innovation through more support for such areas as innovation in services and design, and introducing a new generation of financial instruments for SMEs.

Ton Van LieropThe responses were from Ton Van Lierop, Commission spokesman for Enterprise and Industry.

About the Treaty of Lisbon

The treaty of Lisbon puts citizens at the centre of the European project,” says President Barroso. “I’m delighted that we now have the right institutions to act, and a period of stability.

The Treaty of Lisbon amends the current EU and EC treaties, without replacing them. It provides the EU with the legal framework and tools necessary to meet future challenges and to respond to citizens’ demands.

Link to more information on the treaty of Lisbon (