A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the EU supports industrial innovation in the UK. There are four key ways in which it currently does this:
- Facilitating collaborative relationships: European support can help ease the process of international collaboration through pan-European structures, common legislation and many mechanisms of active encoragement.
- Providing access to funding streams: The UK has traditionally received around 15% of Framework Programme funds. Meaning the UK stands to receive €11bn from Horizon2020. This programme funds multinational research and exchanges that we just cannot replicate with domestic-only financial support.
- Access to a large customer base: the EU makes accessing customers more straightforward through the single market and the free movement of people.
- Complementing UK support: EU support represents an additional source of innovation funds, sometimes at a larger scale than domestic support.
But the EU doesn’t just offer something for innovative businesses today, it’s also developing and improving. The key support mechanism for science and innovation – Horizon 2020 – offers a step up from previous programmes for innovation, with more money, simpler access and more support for SMEs. In addition there are a number of ways in which the EU could improve the environment for innovators in the future. This blog takes a closer look.
For innovators, the EU’s getting better
It’s getting easier to access
Although it is still not easy to apply for support from Horizon 2020, the programme is simpler and speedier to access than its predecessors. Anecdotal feedback from manufacturers suggests that the improvements have been noticed.
It’s better for SMEs
Horizon 2020’s additional focus on SMEs means there is more support available for smaller companies, and it is simpler to access. The new dedicated SME instrument is one example of this, and currently UK SMEs are doing well, receiving around 15% of funds.
The SME instrument has proved so popular that it’s now highly oversubscribed, but the EU has not stood still. It has piloted Seals of Excellence for companies that receive high evaluation scores but do not receive funding. These can help companies to apply for funding from other sources.
More is on the cards: there are a number of reasons to think the EU will provide an even better environment for industrial innovation in the future
The European Innovation Council will look to bridge existing gaps
There’s much about Horizon 2020 to like, but there is also room for improvement. One of the ideas currently on the table is a new European Innovation Council (EIC). Proposals about what this body will do are yet to be fleshed out, but it’s likely to be strategic and could be used to help Europe scale up disruptive, market-creating innovation. The UK would benefit from being at the table for these discussions to make sure the needs of our innovative businesses are represented.
The Digital Single Market could help companies increase sales
Another area where the UK would benefit from being at the table is on the development of a Digital Single Market.
Selling online offers businesses many opportunities but there are still barriers to using online tools and services meaning fewer cross-border sales online than could otherwise be the case. The digital single market essentially represents the movement of the single market online. This will allow EU citizens and businesses to access online goods and services easily and fairly: whatever their nationality, and wherever they live.
According to the commission the digital single market could contribute €415 billion to the European economy, boosting jobs, growth, competition, investment and innovation.
For manufacturers this could be a valuable development and EEF’s 2015 Digital Connectivity Survey showed that 74% of manufacturers believe the UK should push for the completion of a digital single market to allow businesses to “seamlessly access online goods and services across the EU”.
The EU has an appetite for investment in science and innovation
At a time of financial uncertainty, when nations around Europe were cutting back on their budgets for innovation, the EU bucked the trend. It delivered Europe’s biggest ever Framework Programme in the form of Horizon 2020. Already, the EU is looking at what it can do with the next Framework Programme, starting with a forward-looking (Foresight) exercise to consider the big societal challenges that it could address.
Science and innovation offer opportunities for us to address some of the big social and economic challenges we face as a society, not just on a national level but on a European level and globally too. The EU gets a lot right when it comes to innovation – and its future looks innovative too. This is a future that the UK’s innovative businesses will want to be part of.