Europe is the biggest factory for knowledge, ideas and innovations in the world, despite the competition from the US and China. Around one third of the global production of expertise, innovative products and new methods comes from researchers, engineers and innovators in the EU. The reasons for this are clear: along with excellence in research and industry, it is above all the cross-border cooperation more than anything else that brings together the best minds and ideas and turns Europe’s diversity to its advantage. This is good not only for the competitiveness of businesses, but also for the quality of life of the people in Europe, who benefit from the advances in science and technology.
This cooperation is made possible and initiated, above all, by the European framework programmes for research. The current “Horizon 2020” framework programme is the largest of its kind with nearly €80 billion of funding. In its first two years, Horizon 2020 funded some 37,000 institutions, universities and researchers from all over Europe, chiefly in the form of project collaborations. What this means in practice is that people from five to eight countries, from different organisations and disciplines, work together to find solutions. It is not only an example of European integration in practice, but also precisely the kind of interdisciplinary and international cooperation that complex and cross-border problems increasingly require.
For small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, EU research is often their only opportunity to take part in cross-border research collaborations. It’s a question not only of money but also of access to networks, knowledge and export markets. EU research projects often lead to new business contacts and long-term partnerships. The “Factories of the Future” initiative is one such network. It has already produced some 240 projects with around 2,000 participants, a double-digit number of spin-off ideas, and many lasting business and research collaborations.
One of many surveys by the EU Commission looked at what the impact of discontinuing EU research funding would be. It found that without EU research programmes, there would be almost no international cooperation for many researchers and businesses. It would also mean no projects for the approximately 1,000 companies that have taken part so far in the Factories of the Future production research programme.
159,353 European patent applications were registered with the European Patent Office in 2016