Over the last week, we’ve been looking at whether or not the EU should be investing more in research and development (R&D) to try and provoke the creation of an “innovation union” (see here, here and here for earlier posts on the subject). It might be wise, though, to pause and consider whether or not the EU should even be “meddling” in R&D spending.
We asked Philippe de Schoutheete, a former Belgian diplomat and Belgium’s permanent representative to the European Union (1987-1997), whether the EU should have a stronger industrial innovation and R&D policy:
I question whether Europe has, or needs to have, an “industrial innovation and R &D policy”. Industrial innovation is a normal product of a market economy; it can be initiated, helped or encouraged by public or private support (foundations etc.) at regional, national or European level but that does not – and should not – add up to a policy in the normal sense of the word (i.e. giving direction). Increased competition may be a headache but it also is a stimulus. What public authorities, at all levels, should do is to strengthen high level education and encourage (through budgets, taxation levels etc) fundamental and applied research in strategic sectors. This may mean less egalitarian regulation: in Belgium, at least, universities have to pay post doctoral researchers at the same level irrespective of the subject (Assyrian papyrology is equated with engineering or medical research). I doubt if that is wise but, basically, it is not a European Union competence.