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Where is the “flagship” in the European Innovation Union flagship initiative

I’m preparing for the first day of the EU Competitiveness Council tomorrow which will be dedicated to research issues. On the agenda:

  1. Europe 2020 strategy – Annual Growth Survey; contribution to the European semester
  2. Interim evaluation of the 7th Research Framework Programme including the Risk-Sharing Finance Facility (RSFF)
  3. European Innovation Union flagship initiative
  • Follow-up to the European Council of 4 February 2011
  • Pilot Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing

While the Europe 2020 strategy is the pretty useless marketing initiative trying to make forget the total failure of the previous initiative, the Lisbon Strategy – Europe 2020 will be as much a failure as the Lisbon Strategy -, the Interim 7th Framework evaluation doesn’t strike me as being of great interest.

I’ve instead taken a look at the “European Innovation Union flagship initiative“, which sounds so amazing that, from my experience with EU initiatives, somebody is trying to hide substantive problems.

This initiative is based on a Communication from the European Commission in October 2010 and it reads like a framework for how to make Europe a better place with buzzwords, inter alia proposing to “launch European innovation partnerships, the first on active and healthy ageing“.

According to the same Communication, these European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) will be “challenge-driven“,“they will act across the whole research and innovation chain” and “they will streamline, simplify and better coordinate existing instruments and initiatives“.

At this point you can close your marketing handbook, have a good laugh and take a sip of from your glass before returning back to the subject. I’ll then have to torture you with another quote that is as over-optimistic and as marketing-like as the ones before, this time on the actual goal of the EIP on active and healthy dying:

The aims of the innovation partnership are, by 2020, to enable our citizens to live longer independently in good health by increasing the average number of healthy life years by 2, and, in achieving this target, to improve the sustainability and efficiency of our social and healthcare systems, and to create an EU and global market for innovative products and services with new opportunities for EU business.

It’s hard to believe that anyone believes in this kind statements, in particular not in a European Union where even the decision on such an initiative already takes half a year – believing to have an impact until 2020 is simply ridiculous.

And when you read the draft Council Conclusions on the EIP on active and healthy dying, you can quickly see that the member states don’t believe in this either.

short summary of each paragraph of the draft conclusions should make this clear:

  1. The Council conclusions start right away with a reference to another flagship initiative, namely the Digital Agenda (cf. 1st paragraph), which shows that they don’t see the “Innovation Union” with its European Innovation Partnerships as the core solution to the Union’s problems. This reference has been added in the drafting process of the conclusions, as you can see in this earlier draft of the draft conclusions.
  2. Then some nice but very general words for the Commission in the second paragraph.
  3. Some broad note-taking of the planned steps with a half sentence at the end that will ensure that things will move very slowly (i.e. “through appropriate institutional channels“).
  4. In the fourth paragraph, member states have, at an earlier stage, added a sentence at the end (“The Council also reiterates its call for an evaluation of the pilot EIP in due time.“) that makes it very clear it has doubts that this pilot Partnership will actually be good.
  5. In the following paragraph, the Council states very clearly that it is more or less concerned that the EIP will be nothing but a repetition of what is already done in the field of research, therefore naming all the other initiatives going into the same direction.
  6. Then the Council confirms that it will send the current trio presidency (Spain, Belgium, Hungary) as well as the next Presidency (Poland) to safeguard member states influence on the EIP.
  7. And finally, in the last paragraph, the Council demands “to continue developing […] the concept of the EIPs“, being very blunt again and showing that it is not at all convinced of the Commission proposal at this stage. It therefore closes its conclusions with a clear statement that without its political consent, similar projects are not to happen at all in the future.

In short: If I read the Council conclusions on the “Pilot Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing” correctly, the member states seem diplomatically annoyed with what the Commission has proposed and are just incapable of taking a strong stance and stop the Commission.

[UPDATE:] I was able to ask Commissioner Geogheghan-Guinn what she thought of the conclusions, here are my question and the answer. And here are my thoughts about her answer (see at 15h03).

But I still may misread the Council…

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