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Address by François Biltgen on the occasion of the Conference "Promoting innovation and competitivness: A transatlantic dialogue"

Date of Speech : 28-04-2005

Place : The Hague

Speaker : François Biltgen, Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research

Policy area : Competitiveness (Internal market, Industry and Research) Competitiveness (Internal market, Industry and Research)

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished Guests,

Let me first say how pleased I am to be here today and express my gratitude for the opportunity given to the EU-Presidency to speak at this point of today's Conference.

I would also like to transmit the regrets of my colleague Mr. Jeannot Krecké, Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade and Lisbon Coordinator of the Luxembourg Government, who is held back in Luxembourg by a Presidency obligation.

As I am both the responsible minister of "Labour and Employment" and of "Research and higher Education", I feel very comfortable at this conference.

I am convinced that the main task of the Minister of Labour and Employment should not be confined in counting "unemployed people" but in creating more and better jobs.

So you understand that the competitiveness of the European economy is one of the three major economic policy themes of this EU-Presidency during the first half of 2005.

The Spring European Summit has completed the mid-term review of the Lisbon agenda, noting the insufficient progress towards its goals. The Council also has laid the foundation of a new governance towards achieving the objectives of more growth and employment in Europe.

It’s one major key to move from job security to employment security.

The Council therefore has stressed the importance for Europe to renew and strengthen the basis of its competitiveness, focusing on knowledge, innovation and human capital.

I really liked the statement of Prime Minister Balkenende, that innovation, entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) must go together.

We can’t and won’t compete with the emerging countries on low salaries and low social standards . We won’t build competitiveness on destroying our environment and nature.

Last week, the European Union's Competitiveness Council had a first discussion on the socalled "Integrated Guidelines" for growth and employment and will meet again on May 10th to discuss the micro-economic aspects of these guidelines.

These guidelines represent the common ground for "3-year National Reform Programs", established under the responsibility of the Member States on the basis of a broad consultation among stakeholders, social partners and society at large.

Member States are thus called upon to take ownership of the Lisbon goals for competitiveness and to report regularly on their achievements towards growth and employment.

As I have mentioned, one of the key focuses of these national reform programs will be knowledge, innovation and human capital.

Today's conference has thus been called at a very timely moment, stressing the transatlantic dimension of innovation and competitiveness. It has provided the opportunity to reflect on the multiple dimensions of the relationship between  innovation and competitiveness. It has provided the frame for exchanging experience and best practice. It has underlined and confirmed that the Lisbon agenda is not about organizing a championship between Europe and North America for the sake of the contest, but rather about improving growth and employment performance in Europe and ultimately the standard of living of the people.

The Lisbon Agenda and the US National Innovation Initiative share a lot of common goals and means. Both of us can learn from each other.

I am very happy that the Conference has set the scene for putting innovation as a key driver of competitiveness on the "Transatlantic Agenda", stressing the global dimension of innovation, its driving factors and the barriers that may prevent it.

The rich presentations and exchanges of views that have taken place today, I am convinced, can be put to good use in the coming months and years for the benefit of both sides of the Atlantic.

  • First, by taking concrete initiatives for closer cooperation between the US and Europe on innovation and knowledge generation for which the Governments and the Commission should set the frame.
  • Secondly, by taking on board the many good ideas that have arisen during today's conference in order to improve and promote the innovation system and its output in Europe. Stakeholders of both sides must play a leadership role in this continuous process.

As I said, the timing could not be more appropriate.

The European Commission, at the beginning of April, has submitted to the Council and Parliament its proposal for the 7th Framework Program for Research and Development as well as its proposal for a "Competitiveness and Innovation Program".

I am specially proud that we are close to agree on the creation of a European Research Council (ERC). I believe that such a Council represents a major chance for European research to recover its competitiveness, particularly if such new body, run by scientists is based upon a truly independent structure aimed at the promotion of investigator-driven  projects of high scientific level, especially within the emerging fields of science. This new European level funding  mechanism is aimed to support the very best research carried out a the frontiers of knowledge, so to say : "Frontier research: The European Challenge". As you may have noticed, we have been largely inspired by the US by developing this idea.

Council and Parliament will discuss these proposals in the coming weeks and months and I hope will quickly agree on the content and resources to be allocated to these multi-annual initiatives.

National Reform Programs are currently being prepared in each of the Member States for submission to the commission by mid-October this year. It is to be hoped - and we should all work towards that aim - that the issues of research, development and the promotion of innovation will be appropriately considered in these national action plans, relying on the EU frameworks and usefully complementing them.

This conference has aimed at positioning innovation as a permanent theme in the transatlantic dialogue with a view to fostering the Atlantic innovation climate and strengthening the overall transatlantic relationship through concrete cooperation and partnerships.

Let me stress out some of my main issues: We should promote the mobility of researchers and of students and develop the cooperation between universities. Therefore I am glad that you tackled these issues in your conclusions. In order to realise the idea of mobility, students need to be offered similar universities courses. Therefore it is most important in Europe to continue to implement the Bologna Process.

The EU-Presidency is committed that an appropriate impetus in this regard should be given at the forthcoming EU/US Summit.

Let me finish by thanking Prime Minister Balkenende and Ministers Brinkhorst and Van der Hoeven for their initiative and hospitality in hosting here in the Netherlands this important even.

I would also like to thank Deborah Wince-Smith and the Council of Competitiveness for their contribution in making this conference so successful.

I express the hope on behalf of the Presidency, that it has been one step in a long and intense transatlantic cooperation in the field of innovation.

Thank you very much.

This page was last modified on : 02-05-2005

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