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Bridge over troubled water

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the conference 'EIT – Good practices and learnings' in Copenhagen Business School 25 June 2012.

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Commissioner Vassiliou, Chairman of the EIT, President of CBS, Distinguished guests. Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today.

It is a pleasure to be here at this important conference focusing on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. This will actually be my final speech as the President of the Council of the European Union.

In a few days, Denmark will hand over the EU Presidency to our Cypriote colleagues. But let me briefly look a few months back. At the beginning of the presidency, my colleague the Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen referred to an old Simon and Garfunkel song and said that Denmark would "aim to be a bridge over troubled waters". The last six months have in fact been troubled waters for Europe.

Europe is faced with great challenges. Debt is high. Growth is low. Innovation is insufficient. Jobs all over Europe are being lost. And we have seen record-high youth unemployment rates. These challenges need to be addressed at the root–deep beneath the surface. We must invest today in growth for tomorrow.

With the general partial approach on Horizon 2020, the new framework programme for research and innovation, reached at the Competitiveness Council Meeting on the 31st of May - we have done just this.

And in order to ensure sustainable growth – we need to strengthen the condition for excellent science, innovation and higher education in Europe. The bridge between the three corners of the knowledge triangle and research and industry should be as short as possible - and as direct as possible. Horizon 2020 and EIT will be an important pier in that bridge.

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 will be one of the largest research and innovation initiatives with a proposed budget of 80 billion Euros. Although, we have difficult negotiations ahead of us on this matter.

With a targeted focus on the great societal challenges including food security, climate change and ageing populations, Horizon 2020 rethinks our approach to research and innovation. This challenge-driven approach strengthens basic research and paves the way for unexpected and groundbreaking research results.

Furthermore, Horizon 2020 reduces bureaucracy making it easier and more attractive for small and medium-sized enterprises to apply for EU funding. And it very much underlines that we need to link business, research and knowledge institutions closer together in order to enhance our growth and innovation capacity.

Linking business, research and knowledge institutions closer together - this is also the main objective for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

European Institute of Technology

During the negotiations on Horizon 2020, we have discussed the EIT on several occasions. And at the last Council meeting in May, the Council had a first in-depth discussion with Commissioner Vassiliou and the EIT chairman Mr. von Gabain.

There has been an overall agreement that the EIT has come a long way since it was founded in 2010 and that we already see the first tangible results. I share this view. The EIT has found a home in Budapest. It has launched three Knowledge Innovation Communities on 1) climate change mitigation, 2) information and communication technologies and 3) sustainable energy.

The KIC's are at the heart of the EIT. These unique communities link universities and business closely together. They create a unique environment where both businesses and universities prosper. Studies have shown that businesses collaborating with research institutions are more productive than businesses that do not.

And the KIC's do much more than that. They also educate our young talents. The EIT education programmes contribute to the future high-skilled European workforce. They bring together ambitious students from all over Europe.

During their study programmes, they visit various universities, companies and start-ups in Europe. They will enjoy lectures about the latest developments regarding climate change mitigation, information and communication technologies and sustainable energy. They will be coached to develop their own business ideas. And at the same time, they will build an international network. In other words, they don't learn how to get jobs - but how to create jobs.

By the end of 2012, the KIC's will have trained more than 1300 students and generated more than 100 new products and services. We can expect that these numbers will grow as people become even more aware of the EIT. This shows that the EIT is part of the answer to some of the deeper lying problems that Europe is facing.

EIT helps facilitate the transition; from student to entrepreneur - and from idea to product.

The road ahead

The Commission proposes a tenfold budget increase for the EIT. This constitutes a substantial amount and for the Council this matter is closely linked with the coming negotiations on the multiannual financial framework. The EIT plans to launch six new KIC's. Three in 2014 and three more by the year 2018. But before doing that, the EIT will conduct a thorough evaluation of the existing KIC's. I support this effort. We need to get a deeper understanding of the KIC's.

  • Which lessons have we learned?
  • Can the application process be improved?
  • In what way can the KIC's contribute to renewed growth and innovation?

It is crucial that we answer these questions in order to improve the existing and future KIC's. And I hope that this conference will deliver some of the answers and provide valuable insights for the process that will follow.

When times get rough...

This Danish presidency has built on the preparations done by the Polish Presidency and a very constructive approach by the member states. Now we hand over the rudder to the Cypriot Presidency. Even though we have worked hard and achieved strong results, the European challenges are far from being solved. We still have a long way to go before we reach calmer waters. But with the agreement on the overall structure of Horizon 2020, we have set the right course.

I would like to end by returning to Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge over troubled water. One of the sentences is as follows: I am on your side. When times get rough. Times are rough in Europe. But we are in it together. And we must act together to overcome these difficult times. Unity and cooperation is the identity of modern Europe.

We need to work together to create new jobs and sustainable growth in Europe. To succeed with these ambitions we have to increase the innovation capacity. I wish you all a fruitful and constructive conference.

Thank you.

last modified Feb 10, 2013