Europe's R&D Report Card: Good, But Could Do Better

Europe is increasingly becoming a popular place to do science, according to a report released today by the European Union. But that's not due to any big funding increases from E.U. governments or industry. The report says that the research workforce in the 27 E.U. nations grew twice as fast as in the United States between 2000 and 2006, reaching 640,000 researchers, while also attracting more foreign researchers and more private R&D investment from the United States. During that same period, however, "R&D intensity"—research spending as a percentage of gross domestic product—pretty much stayed around 1.84%. That's a long way from the E.U.'s self-imposed Lisbon Goal—set during a meeting in the Portuguese capital in 2000—of reaching an R&D intensity of 3% by 2010.

A breakdown by country, after the jump. 

Things have not been uniformly stagnant across the E.U. Some 17 countries, particularly those that started with a low research intensity, made marked improvements, but the other 10 decreased, including science powers such as France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Although the overall amount of research spending increased over the 6 years, GDP also grew, leaving intensity flat-lined. Meanwhile, Japan increased its intensity from 3.04% to 3.39%, Korea from 2.39% to 3.23%, and China from 0.90% to 1.42%. (U.S. research intensity fell, from 2.74% to 2.61%.)
The villain of the piece is European industry, which the report blames for not spending enough on R&D. That has long been a problem in Europe, which has a smaller research-intensive industry than some of its competitors. This has to change, E.U. research commissioner Janez Potočnik and Vice-President Günter Verheugen said in a statement, even though the current global financial situation makes it difficult. "In a time of crisis, it is not the moment to take a break in research investments and in innovation," the pair said. "They are vital if Europe wants to emerge stronger from the economic crisis and if it wants to address the challenges of climate change and globalisation."