Red tape hindering companies from taking part in EU research programmes, the declining number of scientists in Europe and the high cost of patents were among issues raised by MEPs at the hearing of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner-designate for Research, Innovation and Science.
"The EU must become a true innovation union", said Ms Geoghegan-Quinn in her opening statement, stressing that "my task will be to put research, innovation and science at the heart of EU policies". Completing the European Research Area, addressing major challenges such as climate change, energy efficiency and ageing, and creating an innovation research culture were the three priorities she proposed for her term of office.
EU innovation policy
A possible clash between Ms Geoghegan-Quinn's portfolio on research, innovation and science and the portfolio for industry and entrepreneurship was suggested by Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP, ES).
"Innovation goes right across every policy area in the European Commission", replied the Commissioner-designate, adding that she would have "the overarching role for cross-cutting, for putting this innovation policy in place" in areas such as the digital economy, enterprise or employment.
"If we want to take Europe out of the economic crisis in which it is at the moment, than we have to innovate (...) taking the research and transferring it into jobs at the end of the day", she added. And she agreed with Judith A. Merkies (S&D, NL), who said "In the EU we're good at research but less good at turning it into products".
Red tape and EU research projects
The bureaucracy hindering private companies - especially smaller firms - wishing to take part in the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme was mentioned by Lena Ek (ALDE, SE), Angelika Niebler (EPP, DE) and other MEPs. "We cannot compromise sound financial management but we can simplify", stressed Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, a former member of the European Court of Auditors. "If we have less rules, we have less errors", she added.
Funding for research
"Research is carried out to a very large extent in the EU's Member States" said Jean-Pierre Audy (EPP, FR). He wondered whether it was time to "communitise" research funding. Developing a European Research Area, answered Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, was "a glorious opportunity" to coordinate research in Europe and avoid duplication. She was looking forward to the challenge of negotiating the research budget in the next financial perspective.
Francisco Sosa Wagner (NA, ES) asked the Commissioner-designate about "a European research plan to increase the money available for those fields that are not profitable". Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said that "no matter what the research is, it is always valuable, it can always be used" and the 7th Research Framework Programme would support all kinds of research.
Knowledge-sharing: patents and intellectual property rights
Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA, DE) questioned the candidate Commissioner about the accessibility of research results. Adam Gierek (S&D, PL), too, was concerned about the high cost of protecting intellectual property rights and accessing patents and asked about her political vision for solving the issue of the EU patent. "The patent issue is a very serious obstacle", agreed Ms Geoghegan-Quinn. She promised to "work very closely with Mr Barnier to ensure that the final step is taken".
Nuclear energy research
Niki Tzavela (EFD, GR) asked Ms Geoghegan-Quinn how she would encourage university level research in nuclear energy, for example to train nuclear engineers. "Nuclear energy is no silver bullet that is going to resolve the climate change and energy problem", replied the Commissioner-designate, "but nuclear energy remains the technology of choice in many Member States" and "research should be maintained and developed as an option for those Member States that wish to pursue it".
Asked by Giles Chichester (ECR, UK) about support for big, important, high-technology projects, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said that, for example, ITER [the EU's nuclear fusion project] "is a vital element of a long-term strategy that the Union has for sustainable energy supply and security (...). We have to ensure that this project is working".
Not enough researchers in Europe
"We need researchers in Europe. We don't have enough of them", contended Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, PT), to which Ms Geoghegan-Quinn replied "We have to put in place a climate to encourage researchers to come into the system, to remain in the system, to be able to move in the 27 Member States at ease, without worrying about their working conditions, their pension rights, their entitlements and so on."
"Researchers in central and Eastern Europe are faced with higher barriers to access EU funds", said Adina-Ioana Valean (ALDE, RO). "We need to build up the infrastructure but we also need to build up capacities", agreed Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, adding "we have to work together if we don't want to continue losing opportunities."
How would the Commissioner-designate increase the number of women scientists, was a question asked by Catherine Trautmann (S&D, FR) and Britta Thomsen (S&D, DK). Emphasising that the number of women dropping out of scientific careers was not just about equality but also "a waste of talent", Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said "We have to start at the education level and encourage women to get involved in science. That's where the jobs are".
In the chair : Herbert REUL (EPP, DE)
Responsible committee: Committee on Industry, Research and Energy
Participating committee: Committee on Culture and Education