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Debates

Innovation

Fulfilling Europe's innovation mission

Robert Madelin / Jul 2016

Image: Shutterstock

 

Europe has always been a world-leading inventor . We retain the core skills and deep science culture that have made this possible. In this century too, Europe can contribute a great share of the world's new tools, in genomics and biotech, in data and materials, in energy and nutrition, in propulsion and cognition, in health and well-being, both physical and mental.

It is not to be taken for granted that Europe will continue to fulfil its innovation mission. The future of innovation in Europe is less a theoretical or empirical question and more one of intent and principle. Do we choose politically to be innovators?

If Europe failed in its 21st century mission to innovate, the blame would lie not with the world but with ourselves. But if we choose to hold to the innovator's path, we can succeed: and in doing so, we shall innovate our way to social inclusion and sustainability as well as to productivity, growth and jobs.

My recent policy review for President Juncker makes the case for a stronger pro-innovation mission in Europe, and suggests some issues on which more can be done right now.

First, we need to treat innovation ecosystems with respect. Innovation works best if we all understand what is really going on. Innovation ecosystems have a complex life of their own. Too often, even if policy-makers really know better, we imagine innovation in a linear way, as a pipe-line with inputs and outputs.

The mythical pipeline exists, since science remains at the heart of much that is new. But where we focus only on the pipeline, we miss the real needs of Europe's more diverse and demand-driven innovation system. We must instead work from a more accurate map of the system. This implies more open collaboration, both globally and between citizens, governments and inventors at home.

Second, we need to work harder at creating a common sense that the disruption of the current Fourth Industrial Revolution is a good thing for everyone, and that leaders will make sure that citizens are not left behind, lost or trampled in the process.

The world is on the crest of a wave of revolutionary disruption. Europe can choose to own, not merely experience, this Revolution. Europe can catch the wave by drawing on our strengths as a mature community of values and an open society. But success requires the collective courage to open and sustain a different public conversation. Not 'robots eat our jobs', but 'what world of work shall we design for the 21st century in Europe?'

To succeed, we need not just to have better plans and clearer goals.Europe needs better assets. This is not all about money and research. Both matter hugely, and Europe must continue to work hard on both fronts. But they are not enough. We have to get back to basics.

This means paying greater attention to three key foundation stones of innovation: upskilling Europe's people, using local strengths to underpin local innovation, and transforming public processes. We too often underplay these tasks as being beyond our competence or effective reach. But we need at least a complete, shared understanding of these key drivers of our innovative capacity. We need a common sense of mission to favour European innovation in our rules, and in our schools.

Finally, the public sector must change faster. EU 1.0 cannot deliver Europe 2.0. The Commission can and must become a beacon for embedded innovation. This is a mantra in my own career as a public service manager, and there is much good work underway in the Commission as in Memebr states: but it is not joined up and we lack full corporate endorsement of the successful experiments. Here, there is room for more agility.

Europe can be as innovative now as in the past. It is time to make a fresh start. Feasible, fresh initiatives in the year ahead, joined up at local, national and EU level and pursued at scale, will bear fruit by the end of the decade. We need all innovation actors, the young as well as the historic incumbents and their older leaders, to co-create Europe's innovation road-map and build Europe's own future.

 

 

Robert Madelin

Robert Madelin

July 2016

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