VERA – Forward Visions on the European Research Area

VERA is funded by the European Union's FP7 programme for research,
technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 290705

Scenario 2


Societal Challenges – Joint Action

The sense of urgency is the driving force of this scenario. There are various causes underlying this sense of urgency, among them, a shortage of energy provision, military conflicts right on the borders of the European Union, and alarming developments as regards climate change or disease pandemics. The thrust: To maintain the way of life in Europe, European States have become increasingly open to collective action. This is accompanied by recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. As Europe struggled over the years to emerge from that crisis, it has achieved a high degree of tax harmonization to combat tax avoidance and tax optimization, particularly by large multinational firms. The political will for Joint Action at European level has grown over the years and crystallized in thematic cooperation to tackle societal challenges. Decisions about these collaborations were first made at the intergovernmental level (the Council), where the debate around societal challenges focused on economic considerations, mainly on how to boost industrial leadership. This resulted in a variety of thematic joint actions bringing together not only national governments, but also “hot-spot” regions and knowledge hubs. However, as the demands from political parties and NGOs became more insistent, a new institutional framework was installed for the identification and selection of societal challenges to be addressed by joint European action. This framework rests upon legitimation processes under the aegis of the European Parliament. So, overall, European institutions have become key players: The major decisions about policy priorities and programming take place between the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament. The Research and Innovation Landscape: The Joint Actions emerge as large programmes with large public investments in research and development addressing societal challenges. NGOs and other civil society organisations contribute to the funding and implementation of these programmes. The RTDI system in Europe offers various promising career prospects for researchers, including better opportunities for women. With the main policy concern focused on addressing societal challenges, the publicly funded pursuit of frontier research becomes embedded into this paradigm. Programmes addressing Societal Challenges embrace health issues (e.g. pandemics, prevention), the security and sustainability of energy provision, and climate change. Europe in the world: European-level networks and programmes work towards linking up with or forming new international alliances where challenges need to be addressed at global level.

Critical policy issues emerging from this scenario

In the attached report we explore the implications for the research and innovation landscape, read the extended scenario text on pp. 20-24. From this extended view, we derived a set of key institutional and policy features:


Policy priorities

1- Addressing a considerable and growing set of societal “challenges” and problems through public support to R&D activities.

2- Support to basic research in areas considered relevant to societal challenges (“strategically targeted fundamental research”).

3- Development of a common, integrated Europe-wide Intellectual Property system including a European patent system focusing on ensuring open access to the results of publicly funded research.

4- Opening up European standardization to more societal players including NGOs and other concerned stakeholders. Standardisation is seen as an instrument to support innovation in a “socially responsible” and sustainable manner.

5- Development of strong European-wide communication infrastructures (both physical transport and ICT). This includes the funding of R&D programmes to develop new communication technologies.

6- Tax harmonisation at European level including common treatment of tax credits for R&D investments, focusing mainly on small firms.

Institutional foci

7- Policy orientation rests upon open processes of legitimation under the aegis of the European Parliament.

8- European Commission and other European bodies are at the core of policy programming.

9- New political processes for legitimizing and agenda-setting of societal challenges have increased the influence of organised groups able to operate at European level. These are able to push their agendas, and build European societal platforms (on the model of European Technology platforms).

10- A wide variety of organisations (including national and regional public sector organisations, NGOs and philanthropic organisations) participate actively in the performance function.

11- Public Research Organizations become solution integrators and key actors in developing and maintaining research infrastructures. Some PROs have merged across borders or entered into international strategic alliances.

Other implications of the scenario

12- IP governance focuses on different objectives than Scenario 1. While in Scenario 1 the main objective is to provide security for private investors and open the market to international competition, the main objectives in Scenario 2 are to ensure open access to the outputs of public R&D investments, and provide a regulatory common ground that contributes to tackling global challenges.

13- Problem-driven orientation permeates the definition of science policy priorities and the evaluation of its results

14- Innovation is viewed broadly to include “social innovation” and changes in the public provision of goods and services.

15- Substantial scientific and technological capabilities are dispersed across the majority of European regions. Universities are not subjected to sharp hierarchisation.

Climate change and the energy sector in this scenario

VERA scenario 2 “Societal Challenges – Joint Action” is in many ways positive for sustainable energy RTDI development and this scenario creates conditions for a positive future for energy and climate change strategy of the EU. On condition regional and EU level governance is able to collaborate closely in searching of RTDI driven solutions for GCs, Scenario 2 may well promote the attainment of EU´s strategic energy and de-carbonisation goals. As the major part of decisions about policy priorities and programming takes place between the EC, the Council, and the Parliament, the public conditions for the solving of energy and other GCs seem positive. The challenge remaining in this scenario, based on strong role of public sector activities, is how to engage private sector to plan and implement in concrete terms required publicly driven actions and, especially, to develop required globally competitive sustainable energy eco-innovations on a basis of publicly supported research.

Scenario 2 also recognizes the importance of solving GCs on a global level. This scenario assumes that government-driven transnational joint actions and programmes, European and global, are working together towards building new international alliances where GCs need to be addressed at global level. Growth and job driver, as well as GC strategies give a strong legitimacy for policy and for public RTDI funding as well, and Joint European action creates good conditions for RTDI driven solutions for energy and climate change issues. As European integration has remained a “leitmotif” for European governments, this creates good conditions for RTDI driven solutions also in energy and climate change issues.

In conclusion, Scenario 2 favours in many also sustainable energy RTDI development and related actions presented in EU´s future oriented energy and climate change documents. The question how to engage private sector to EU´s strategy and required actions, needed especially in development of required energy eco-innovations, seem to remain unclear in this scenario. Accordingly, this is seems to be a particular issue which would need a careful analysis of the needs of policy intervention and actions in Scenario 2 in the future.