27 April 2014

It has been three years since the first European Innovation Partnership (EIPs) was launched, in the area of active and healthy ageing. An independent expert group, in which both of us served as members, has just examined the practice of the existing EIPs and offered its recommendations on what needs to be improved. Our final report is available on the website of DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission under the title of „Outriders for European Competitiveness. European Innovation Partnerships as a Tool for Systemic Change“.

 

We believe that Europe needs a more extensive and ambitious application of the partnership approach in order to improve its ecosystem for innovation and to create space for breakthrough innovation. The aim of the partnership is to bring relevant stakeholders together, allowing them to benefit from pan-European best practices, and to deepen the dialogue between the policy-maker and the innovator, but also to provide an arena or platform for addressing regulatory, institutional or other obstacles that might impede system innovation. One of the novelties of the EIPs lies in the fact that it draws on the belief that innovation should be closely tailored towards meeting societal challenges.

 

It is too early to judge the EIPs in terms of their likely outcomes but the overwhelming response to the calls for commitments is a clear sign of a new type of dynamic which the initiative has unleashed. To be sure, the partnership approach is not appropriate for all purposes. In our report, we advocate that the EIPs should only be launched in areas where there is a clear need or prospects for the following: breakthrough innovation and systemic solutions, wide-ranging partnering, European level action and potential for new European competitive advantages.

 

The rationale for the EIPs has to do with systemic change, a concept to which we have attached a lot of importance in the review. The EIPs have to be able to address structural failures and enable transition from the present system to the preferred one. Their focus should be on creating a single market for innovation through demand side actions and strengthening the diffusion of innovation.

 

The conclusion we have reached in our review is that the EIPs were created with the right level of ambition in mind but they have not been executed with sufficient stamina, consistency and determination. Inclusiveness of the approach has come at the expense of strong leadership and a clear chain-of-command. The latter is reflected in the lack of a single structure at the Commission to deal with the EIPs and a divergence of views between the different Directorates. The next round of EIPs should therefore be based on modified targets and a streamlined approach.

 

For this to materialise, a dedicated professional Design Team should be created, nominated personally by the President of the European Commission and answerable at the political level. The Design Team should ensure that the EIPs are placed at the heart of the EU innovation policy and become a key element of the work plan of the President of the Commission. In addition, the EIPs cannot be closed systems. This means that a level-playing field needs to be ensured, so that new and relevant actors, both within and outside of Europe, can become part of the process. It is only in that fashion that the EIPs can live up to their promise of becoming a new and effective way of engaging actors for breakthrough innovation and systemic change in Europe.