Future EU budget must help regions to develop strong R&I ecosystems

The second edition of the Science meets Regions event took place on 29 November at the European Committee of the Regions. Under the title of "Maximising the Impact of Science for Regions and Cities in Current and Future EU Policies", this year's edition focused on the role of science and R&I in the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), recalled that approximately 11 billion euros over a period of 7 years could be lost from the EU research and innovation budget after the withdrawal of the UK.

"The CoR leadership together with its members have kick-started the #CohesionAlliance initiative in order to influence the forthcoming MFF negotiations. EU's R&I and structural and investment funds should be closely linked together both in conception and in operation. The synergies between them and other financing instruments – public and private, European and national – need to be further increased. In order to get regional innovation ecosystems in Europe being more viable and based on partnerships, as well as to achieve the national R&I annual financing reach the 3% level compared to GDP, one cannot go without the active contribution and political support of EU's regions and cities", First Vice-President Markkula stressed.

Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES), rapporteur of the CoR opinion on mid-term review of the Horizon 2020 programme, echoed Markkula's call for a global approach for European R&I funding where the role of regional innovation ecosystems is recognised and which allows new opportunities for every territory and for every pocket of excellence. He advocated for the "territorial connection" proposal as a new tool to implement European research and innovation policies and the future framework programme. "Currently R&I efforts in the EU are too much focalised on certain Member States and their top universities", the member of Pays de la Loire Regional Council regretted.

MEP Eva Maydell (BG/EPP) pointed out that "youth unemployment, ageing population and depopulation are serious obstacles that many European regions face for implementing smart specialisation strategies successfully". According to her, it is important to invest in human capital and closing the digital divide by coupling R&I funds with cohesion policy instruments and European Social Fund.

Vladimir Šucha, Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), highlighted the essential contribution that scientific knowledge brings to decision-making processes at all level and as a consequence the need to promote and expand a regular dialogue between scientists and policy-makers also at local and regional level. This is particularly true considering the impact of today's high connectivity, speed and abundance of information on policy-making. Mr Šucha underlined how this reality calls for a stronger focus on skills and innovative approaches in order to break down silos and share knowledge not only vertically but also horizontally, an area in which JRC is at the forefront.

As part of the fruitful collaboration between the CoR and the JRC, various CoR members have organised local Science meets Regions events in their constituencies during the past year. These initiatives were presented by Franco Iacop (IT/PES), President of the Regional Council of Friuli Venezia Giulia; Tanya Hristova (BG/EPP), Mayor or Gabrovo; Heinz Lehmann (DE/EPP), Member of Saxony Regional Parliament; and Manuel Pleguezuelo (ES/EPP) from the region of Murcia.

Science meets Regions was held on the second day of an interinstitutional event, which began with Science meets Parliaments at the European Parliament on 28 November. It focused this year on the role of science in a post-fact society with contributions from First Vice-President Markkula, Ms Hristova and Mr Lehmann.

Science meets Regions and Science meets Parliaments at local level

Local "Science meets Regions" and "Science meets Parliaments" events took place throughout Europe in 2017, organised jointly by the JRC, the European Committee of the Regions and local and regional authorities. Smart Specialisation was the focus of the events held on 4 May in Donostia/San Sebastián and on 16 November in Gabrovo (Bulgaria), while the event hosted in the Slovenian Parliament in Ljubljana on 11-12 October debated R&I challenges for the country. On 14 November in Murcia (Spain) scientists and local administration experts discussed water management and energy in the Mediterranean, and on 20 November relevant stakeholders met in Dresden (Germany) to exchange insights on energy and climate change issues. The last Science meets Parliaments event of 2017 will take place on 6 December in Bratislava, in the Slovak Parliament.