Research and Technology Policy in the European Union: A Bottom-up Contribution to European Integration

The European Union’s Research Policy, aimed to increase competitiveness of the European productive system, is implemented through strategic actions, the most relevant of which is increased public and private investments in strategic industrial research and innovation, but it includes also investments in education, lifelong learning, and technological infrastructures. We prove that research policy is playing a role over and above the institutional objective of competitiveness. Research and development (R&D) programs led to an upgrade in the scientific, cultural, and technological level of participants and contributed to the path towards political union, to the irradiation of European values within and beyond European boundaries, and to the implementation of other policies. EU research programs generated high return on the investment. It is estimated that current Community contribution of € billion/year might generate a GDP increase of € 200 billion/year in the 2030s. Intangible results are also momentous. In this paper we address the impact of research on other policies: Competition, Consumer Protection, Employment, Energy, Enlargement, Enterprise, Environment, Information Society, Institutional Affairs, Internal Market, Mobility, Public Health, Regional Policy, and Transport. R&D policy was put at the heart of the Lisbon Strategy (LS) to boost employment and growth in Europe. LS suffered of major weaknesses, described in the paper; it had however, a role in putting R&D center stage in EU strategic planning for sustainable growth and in creating the conditions for the member states to decide for a major increase of R&D public spending, thus reinforcing the most effective component of the LS, the Framework Program, built on strengths of proved effectiveness: the involvement of all stakeholders in its planning, the feeling of ownership by the scientific/industrial community, focused funding, strict monitoring of execution, and enhanced exploitation plans. Community funding is the incentive to face the intrinsic complexity of international collaborations, an incentive ever so much important in EU27 to overcome the diversity in business culture, business practices, innovation, and workforce qualification across the enlarged Union. Diversity makes integration more complex and introduces additional costs to international cooperation, but it is an asset and a point in favor of the EU within the Triad. It facilitates addressing and understanding competitors in a world where new actors from remote markets and with different cultures take increasingly relevant roles. Changes triggered by research policy are bottom up and affect people in the first place: researchers, industrialists, students. By getting to know their peers in other countries, European participants in the programs learn to respect and appreciate diverse cultures, overcome the barriers that divided Europe, experience the feeling of belonging in a community larger than their own country, and establish networks that are the ground culture for European citizenship. Changes triggered by research policy affect enterprises as well. They broaden their horizon and they experience the advantages of international collaboration, known to universities for centuries. This bottom-up action complements and is supported by the institutional activities of the EU and builds a community united in diversity capable of facing the challenges of a globalized world.
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