For a European Consciousness. For a More Competitive Europe
For a while now the current economic crisis has been launching negative messages to the Europeans, squashing them in the fear of the future; messages that do not only relate to the economy but also to Europe, its integration and its future.
Without forgetting the dramatic situation of the over 24 million European citizens currently unemployed and the financial difficulty that several European countries have to face, we have the duty to be optimistic. We have to rationally consider how it is precisely thanks to the achievements of the process of integration that today the member states of the European Union can together, thus stronger and with a shared solidarity, face the global challenges ahead and the other main political actors of the planet, sometimes constituting entire continents.
But to be optimistic in this moment it is necessary to have a European Consciousness and not to forget the extraordinary positive factors of our reality that, among other, tie the past to the present.
From the cradle of democracy, Europe has seen the birth and establishment of the rule of law, based on Roman law, the birth and development of the ideas of the Enlightenment that paved the way for the two big revolutions of that century, the birth of liberalism and the birth of empirical science that with its discoveries and the environment created by the abovementioned paved the way for the industrial revolution. More recently it has seen the establishment of modern democracy and the birth of a social model that puts human dignity in the forefront. And Europe has been, and is, an exceptional centre for culture and creation.
Each of these factors, not listed in chronological order, would deserve a deeper consideration but what is useful to do today is to cite them, together, remembering that they do not belong only to the past but are ever present as fundamental features of today’s Europe. All of this, together with the still ongoing process of European integration, has ensured, in the past sixty years, the longest period of peace and prosperity that our continent has ever experienced.
Those who speak of the irreversible decline of Europe chose not to consider these fundamental factors misinterpreting a crisis and a problem of governance for decline. Or appraising, in fear, the economic growth of other regions of the world as negative for our own future: to the contrary increased global well-being is a positive element for all.
Europe is not in decline. Europe has recently initiated its new course and, pressed by the crisis, is realistically admitting its problems and looking for possible solutions. Jean Monnet said that “people only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them”.
This is why Europe could leave this crisis strengthened.
In order to achieve this, Europe cannot neglect a factor not often cited but of pivotal importance in today’s world and that relates to all that can be encompassed in the extraordinary capacity of Europeans to educate, research and innovate.
It is towards European research and innovation – aspect of strategic importance for the present and future of Europe – that we want to bring the attention of European citizens and the leaders of the
member states. Conscious that the decisions that our leaders make today will shape for the decades to come the continent in which our children and grandchildren will live.
In addition to the measures necessary for short-term stabilization, and the reflection on the direction that the member states need to make, European leaders need to give more attention to an area whose strategic importance is recognized by all, ensuring not to compromise a competitive advantage that Europe today holds to give precedence to local and short-term political objectives.
The quality of education, research and innovation in Europe represents one of the main advantages of our continent. Knowledge, curiosity and ideas that have been so important in shaping our past should also represent the key to our future. It is imperative to maintain these advantages as today, more than ever before, the prosperity of a society depends on the level of education and innovativeness of its citizens. Education, research and innovation are concrete words that stand at the basis of the real economy, of our industry and the possibility to create growth and jobs. They will be pivotal in maintaining a competitive and strong Europe in an ever more global environment.
Notwithstanding this, with the exception of a few countries, the expenditures for this aim have been significantly severed.
The proposal of the European Commission for the programme dedicated to this sector (Horizon 2020) that sees an investment of 80 billion Euro by 2020 is an important step in the right direction.
However we invite the European leaders, particularly in this moment of crisis, to see the expenditure in research and innovation as an essential investment, and to choose a course that will allow Europe to gradually reach the spending on R&D of 3% GDP by 2020.
An increased investment in this direction has to happen soon. But we should start immediately to make better use of the resources already available. Europe can do a lot even in the areas that do not require significant financial investment but better coordination to create a more efficient European Research Area: avoiding duplication of efforts in research, increasing the cooperation between university and industry, guaranteeing a better and facilitated communication for researchers and a simplified access to existing databases and other research infrastructures.
Atomium Culture, bringing together leading European universities, media and industry, was created with this aim. And it is with the aim to support the existing European initiatives with a best practice and an innovative model, already presented in advance to the President of the European Commission and some governments of the member states, that AC will shortly launch “REIsearch – Research Excellence Innovation Network” together with the institutions engaged to provide Europe with a reliable network dedicated to researchers and to the research databases of the Member States.
We therefore hope that the leaders of the member states of the European Union will take advantage of this important moment by coupling research and innovation to the pressing needs already at the top of their agendas: research and innovation will be the future of Europe.
The future is always a priority.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Honorary President of AC, former President of France
Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, President of AC
Felipe González-Márquez, Chairman of the Advisory Board of AC, former Prime Minister of Spain