Patrick Barth
Berlin Office

On 1 July 2014 Italy took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). In the next six months it will lead the Council in its engagement with other EU institutions and in its dealings with external stakeholders. Strengthening the EU’s Research and Innovation (R&I) capacity has been identified as a policy priority in order to realise the Presidency’s overarching objective of stimulating growth in Europe. The Italian Presidency will look to use its agenda setting power in order to foster meaningful political debate on how the EU is best able to maximise its innovation potential. LNE Group’s EU Public Affairs team reviews the Italian Presidency’s top five R&I priorities, and considers how they may impact innovation stakeholders.

1. Putting innovation at the centre of EU policy making

Adopting Council conclusions that explicitly recognise the positive impact that innovation can have on growth and employment in the EU will be a key target for the Italian Presidency. Council recognition indeed provides political weight to the issue, and is thus essential to future innovation policymaking. The appointment of a new European Commission in November means that the Italian Presidency has a unique opportunity to cement the importance of innovation within the EU policy-making mind-set for the next five years.

2. Promoting innovation partnerships

Italian Presidency efforts are expected to focus on further developing public/private innovation partnerships. These platforms enable industry stakeholders to gain a greater say in shaping EU funding strategy and instruments. Most of those partnerships have now been established, and the process of launching calls for proposals in ongoing. The Italian Presidency’s support for these platforms will be welcomed by industry stakeholders – especially those that have already invested significant time and resources in establishing them.

3. Fostering demand-led innovation

The Italian Presidency is committed to stimulating a shift towards demand driven innovation policy during its tenure, with a view to foster investment in innovative technology that has a real-world future commercial value. Demand driven innovation has long informed innovation support mechanisms in some EU Member States, most notably the United Kingdom, but the take-up of this philosophy has been slower at EU level so far. One of the challenges will be to decide which demand to respond to. Whilst a single Member State can develop a funding policy corresponding to its own national demand, the EU has to consider very diverse markets.

4. Developing research infrastructures

“Open and productive research infrastructures will significantly advance Europe’s capacity to generate new ideas and create jobs”, the Italian Presidency states in its work programme. The Presidency will hold discussions to develop such research infrastructures, taking into account the ongoing implementation of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap as well as the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) instrument.

5. Completing the European Research Area (ERA)

Italy will work to ensure the completion of an integrated ERA by the end of 2014, as called for by the European Council. ERA is a unified research area based on the EU’s Internal market, in which researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely. The full realisation of an authentic ERA is seen as essential to strengthen Europe’s scientific and technological base, increase its competitiveness and capacity to address economic and social challenges. The Italian Presidency will aim to foster political commitment to complete the ERA and to develop joint EU research programming. Italy will also seek to further empower European researchers and grant them increased mobility at continental level.

6. Powering up Horizon 2020

The Italian Presidency will aim to further support the implementation of the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020, and to carry out an initial ‘stocktaking’ of its early outcomes. The Presidency will analyse the results of the first calls for proposals launched earlier this year and will conduct consultations to understand what is working well so far and what needs to be improved. Its key findings will feed into the preparation of the Horizon 2020 Work Programmes for 2016-2017 and the development of the second round of funding calls.

Italy will organise a number of events to foster constructive and critical dialogue on R&I policies with the scientific community, industry, political authorities in the Member States and the public at large. In particular, an international conference on ‘Leading Enabling Technologies for Societal Challenges’ (LET’S 2014) will be held in Bologna from 29 September to 1 October 2014. It will discuss the role of the Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) pinpointed by Horizon 2020 in bridging the gap between excellence in scientific and technological research, innovation in industry and access to the European and global markets. LET’S 2014 will focus on Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing, Processing and Biotechnology.

The next piece in this LNE Group Insight Series looks at some of the key challenges and risks the Italian Presidency may have to face over the coming months, which may disrupt its agenda and/or hamper its capacity to pursue its work programme.