Friday, March 14, 2008

Europe Takes a Creative Turn

The economic and social future of Europe is mainly outlined in a strategy called "Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs". Launched in 2000 it provides the blueprint for Europe staying competitive in the globlized economy. It so happened that at the Spring European Council ending a few minutes ago, Europe is launching the next three year cycle. The European Council is presided by Slovenia and as the Minister in charge for the Lisbon Strategy in Slovenia I imagine that I had a little bit of influence on the flavor of the strategy in its next cycle.

The first lesson learned with Slovenia in the driving seat of the EU is that it cannot make any sharp turns. The EU is much like a huge cargo ship with 27 smaller or larger tow boats trying to push it a bit in that or the other direction. And in the last couple of months we did some more pushing than one would expect from one of the smallest member states.

Since its beginnings in 2000, the Lisbon Strategy was placing high hopes on the knowledge economy - on science, technology and innovation. One of the directions I tried to push was for a fresher view on exploiting Europe's intellectual and cultural potential. Contributing actively to the Internet communication revolution since the early 1990s, I was very well aware that the ideal innovation and creativity ecosystem is no longer one that is paper based, locked into closed institutional boundaries and that just the scientific and technical innovation is not enough to stay competitive on the global stage.

The prime ministers or heads of states of the 27 member states did acknowledge that "A key factor for future growth is the full development of the potential for innovation and creativity of European citizens built on European culture and excellence in science." and

"At the same time further efforts must be made, including in the private sector, with a view to investing more, and more effectively, in research, creativity, innovation and higher education and achieving the 3% R&D investment target."

and also:

"Providing high‑quality education and investing more and more effectively in human capital and creativity throughout people's lives are crucial conditions for Europe's success in a globalised world."

Explicitly mentioning the creative industries was beyond the vision of those who were negotiating the text that would be acceptable to all 27 member states. But frankly, the creative industries, just like the R&D sector is the one that is providing the added value. The latter creating the functional excellence of a product or service, the former its meaning.

The primer ministers introduced the concept of free movement of knowledge:

"Member States and the EU must remove barriers to the free movement of knowledge by creating a "fifth freedom" based on enhancing the cross-border mobility of researchers, as well as students, scientists, and university teaching staff, making the labor market for European researchers more open and competitive"

It is the free movement of the entire creative class that can make sure that in Europe we can put the best person to the job. Each individual member state is too small a market for the highly skilled and their movement is hampered through all kinds of obstacles. But the phrasing "cross-border mobility of the creative class" or "talents" did not pass under the bar. Member states do have a broader vision. For example, the discussion paper of the UK government "Realizing Britain’s Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain" has a subtitle "Unlocking Talent".

The 5th freedom, as originally proposed by the (incidentally) Slovenian commissioner for Research dr. Potočnik, was understood as movement of knowledgeable people. But the free movement of knowledge can mean so much more. The European leaders added

"facilitating and promoting the optimal use of intellectual property created in public research organisations so as to increase knowledge transfer to industry, in particular through an "IP Charter" to be adopted before the end of the year and encouraging open access to knowledge and open innovation."

The text provides a clear acknowledgement that creativity and innovation are no longer locked into some closed institutional frameworks. Moreover, to bring the masses into the creative processes they need access to knowledge and the leaders stated very clearly "encouraging open access to knowledge and open innovation". This is the language that the top EU political elite would use for Web 2.0 participatory innovation and the open access movement.

Last but not least the European leaders agreed with the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janšathat communication infrastructures, the high speed internet, is an essential infrastructure where innovation and creativity take place today. European leaders are calling for every European school to be connected to high speed internet by 2010. And for an increasing percentage of the citizens to have high speed access.

The vessel I wrote about in the beginning is big. Quick turns are not possible. In the EU context one is not seeking the highest but rather the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless, the messages are there. They are the right messages. But the member states, regions, cities and companies would do well if they would take these ideas further. And member states, not all 27, but smaller groups could get together and proceed with different speeds on different issues.

Disclaimer: This is a personal view of the author and not an official position of the Slovenian government or its minister.

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