EU Calls For New Science Plan

Europe must increase funds for research and eliminate nationalistic reflexes that have turned the continent from science leader to laggard, the European Commission said.

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Europe must increase funds for research and eliminate nationalistic reflexes that have turned the continent from science leader to laggard, the European Commission said Tuesday.

As President Barack Obama plans for a new era in U.S. science and technology, and research efforts gather pace in emerging powers such as China and India, Europe must start taking drastic action, an EU policy report said.

The report by the European Research Area Board sets a "clear vision" of where Europe should be heading, European Research and Development Commissioner Janez Potocnik said.

Europe has long been a giant in research, raking in Nobel prizes and producing technological breakthroughs through institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge universities in Britain, the Max Planck Institute in Germany or France's Sorbonne University.

This year's Nobel Prize season, however, has so far seen American scientists take the top honors in medicine and physics. The Nobel Prize in chemistry is to be awarded Wednesday.

"If you look at the number of prizes that have been coming to Europe over the last 10 years, it has fallen dramatically," said Prof. John Wood, chairman of the European Research Area Board.

"To be honest, there is no real vision. That is the real problem," Wood said in an interview with the Associated Press.

His report said "Europe has a quality problem," noting in often damning terms how the rest of the world has caught up in research and technology. "The EU's relative importance to world innovation is slipping: Its global share of patent applications, for instance, has dropped 14 percent over the past six years."

The report called for urgent action if Europe hopes to compete in the future, saying the challenges ahead "imply fundamental change in the way we think, work and research."

The report says many of Europe's research institutes are underfunded, and notes that the European Union is spending 1.1 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on higher education during this decade, compared with 2.6 percent in the United States.

The same is evident on the business side, with 1 percent of GDP being spent on research in Europe, compared with 2.62 percent in Japan and 1.69 percent in the United States. Despite the current financial crisis, Obama has set a goal for boosting U.S. funding to 3 percent of GDP for research and development.

Tuesday's report suggested the EU should strive to match that by 2030.

But Europe's problems are more than budgetary, the report says, using words throughout like "change," ''reorganize," ''rethink" and "rewrite."

As the European Union becomes more integrated as a single market in which people cross borders for work or residency at will, the bloc's 27 member nations remain divided and nationalistic in their research and development projects.

For example, competing national interests have prevented the EU from agreeing on a joint patent system for three decades, leading to court disputes over claims expected to reach up to euro289 million ($425.47 million) by 2013, Wood said.

"Lots of small initiatives are not going to solve" vast problems facing the world, Wood said. "We cannot have 27 member states playing small games everywhere."

Far too few doctoral candidates work outside their home countries, the report said, calling for the proportion to be tripled to 20 percent by 2030.

It said research institutes should coordinate better with other EU nations and with the private sector, and notes the European Commission's own research and development programs are also criticized as "having acquired too much bureaucratic baggage."

The report urges the establishment of a European Research Area by 2030, where public and private scientists can cooperate without borders and red tape.

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