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Investing in science is the key to change

Investing in science is the key to change
Published date: 22.04.2019 08:04 | Author: Ministry of Science

Ispis Print


Minister of Science Sanja Damjanović is a dedicated and excellent leader, but she and her small team of people cannot change the whole country. She will need the support of all ministers and the entire system – Ms. Signe Ratso, Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, said in a statement for Montenegrin daily Pobjeda.

PODGORICA – A small country with a small market cannot survive on its own – it has to be open for investment and must not have large administration. These are some of the areas to which Estonia focused its efforts when it became an independent state – only to become the first start-up economy in Europe. Montenegro has the opportunity to implement reforms under the same model and to create a sustainable innovation ecosystem, but needs to create a suitable environment for innovators and investors.

These are the views of Signe Ratso, Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, expressed in an interview for Pobjeda, based on her experiences from the time when she was the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economy and Communication in the Government of Estonia during the economic reforms. Our interlocutor, who visited Podgorica in late March, on the occasion of a conference of the Ministry of Science entitled “Towards Entrepreneurial Innovation Ecosystems in Montenegro”, said that the Estonian Government decided to start changing the country under a bottom-up principle in 1991, having gained independence.

- This means that we established a real market economy, opening for trade and foreign investment and starting to create a conducive climate for all investors – local and foreign. In addition, we revised the tax system to make it as favourable as possible, and these were the elements that formed the reform basis. This is what, inter alia, enabled us to become a leader in attracting foreign capital from the very beginning of the process – Ratso says.


Competition

During the economic reforms, all state-owned companies were privatised, which, according to her, was a big achievement for Estonia at that time.

- Furthermore, we let the companies that were not competitive go bankrupt. For the innovators, a stable system, a legal framework and a favourable economic environment were crucial. After this process, we could begin to introduce new things – Ratso indicates.

One of these new things was the electronic government (e-Government), a concept presented by the Prime Minister of Estonia at the time, Mr. Mart Laar, which would, according to our interlocutor, make the country recognisable worldwide.

- Anywhere I go – India, Korea, Australia or even Africa – everyone knows about Estonia thanks to e-Government. The concept allows the government to be small, but efficient, and is therefore a great benefit for citizens and companies – Ratso says.

According to her, one can establish a company in Estonia online, completing all administrative requirements in a single day.

- One can obtain all the necessary documentation online. In addition, one can declare taxes in three minutes, vote electronically in the elections and so on. If one visits a physician, everything that is needed to get the prescribed medication is to go to a pharmacy with an ID card. Citizens feel the benefits of all these services. Given that Montenegro is a small country, I believe that this could be a way for you to take to create more efficiency and a more favourable climate for investors and innovators, Ratso points out.

One of the recommendations given to Montenegro by the four-member expert team of the Policy Support Facility, with a view to establishing an innovation ecosystem, is to form an inter-agency team, which is crucial according to our interlocutor.

- Minister of Science Sanja Damjanović is a dedicated and excellent leader, but she and her small team of people cannot change the whole country. She will need the support of all ministers and the entire system – Ratso emphasises.


Institute

One of the recommendations of the expert team was also to develop one or two “moon-shot oriented projects”, i.e. projects with a bold vision. One of such projects, according to our interlocutor, could be the South East European International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (a regional project launched by the Ministry of Science in May 2017, following an initiative of Prof. Herwig Schopper, former Director General of CERN).

According to Ratso, if this project gets implemented, it could be a “moon-shot” project. The European Commission has already allocated EUR 1 million to help define the objectives of the project, as well as to determine whether the Institute is sustainable. The project itself is very challenging, because it ought to function at the level of the region, as well as beyond it, which requires scientific infrastructure, medical component, as well as financial stability. Therefore, the Institute must be competitive in relation to other projects already from the design phase.

Minister Damjanović has done a great job in terms of obtaining support at the ministerial level of the countries of the region, but, as this is a major project, the European Union must be sure that it is sustainable in the long run in terms of financing or co-financing, Ratso said.

Speaking of participation in Horizon 2020 – Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, our interlocutor said that the European Commission encouraged all countries to invest in science at the national level, and that the success of participation in this programme inter alia, depended on that element.

- It is a very positive development that Minister Damjanović managed to increase the budget for science, research and innovation in Montenegro. Another component that is important for successful participation in the Horizon 2020 programme is preparedness, because it is a very competitive programme – she says.

Research based on competitiveness, Ratso comments, is “in early stage of development” in our country.

If your researchers are accustomed to certain evaluation criteria, and have external evaluators who will apply the same rules that apply to European programmes, it is a guarantee that they will be better prepared. I have been told that external evaluators have been used for grants for innovation project ideas, which is an excellent start – she said.


(Lack of) Success

The important thing is, according to our interlocutor, not to be afraid of failure and risk. This is why the Innovation Council, a new body for the next research and innovation framework programme Horizon Europe 2021-2027, will give detailed reasons for any project refusal.

- Even if you fail the first time, you should try again. Many projects fail the first time, but it is important to learn from the refusal and this is why the evaluators will give detailed explanations as to what could have been done better. Based on that information, innovators can be more successful the next time they apply – Ratso said.

Europeans, according to her, have a culture of risk-taking, much more than, for example, the Americans, where the banking system does not support risky projects.

- The Innovation Council will, inter alia, be tasked with approving grants to riskier projects previously refused by the banks, i.e. it will aim to create a fair system, so that those ideas that really have the potential for success are financed – Ratso emphasised.

The European Commission is proposing a total budget of EUR 100 billion for Horizon Europe 2021-2027, and the European Parliament and the European Council will adopt a decision thereon by the end of the year.

- By establishing the Research Council, the European Union has become a place for excellent research, but the plan is to utilise the Innovation Council to achieve the same result in the field of innovation. The purpose of this body is to help innovators under a “bottom up” principle. We have already started with the pilot project – Ratso said.

The fact that the proposed budget of the programme amounts to EUR 100 billion, according to her, illustrates the need for economic growth and creation of new jobs requiring research and innovation, all with a view to have an impact on the lives of all people in the European Union.

- Several pillars of the Horizon Europe programme will be related to industrial competitiveness and common global changes, including, inter alia, climate change and environmental issues. In addressing these challenges and having a real impact, science, research and innovation have enormous potential. This is why we have to invest in them – Ratso concluded.


Infrastructure is not enough

Talking to our reporter, the Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission said that priority areas defined in the Smart Specialisation Strategy had immense potential for Montenegro.

- For example, health tourism has potential because Montenegro is a beautiful state and has an abundance of natural resources. Another advantage is reflected in the number of highly educated people, which is on a par with the European average or even greater – our interlocutor said.

The establishment of the first Science and Technology Park in Montenegro is also of vast importance, but the most important thing is that the companies are integrated.

- It is not enough to have infrastructure and the physical structures; the companies must become a real part of the Science and Technology Park – Ratso stated.


Schools should encourage creativity

According to our interlocutor, change comes from the people, but an adequate legal framework and a favourable environment also ought to exist for innovators to be successful.

- You need people who have ideas and are ready to take risks. This is a quality that develops very early, but the education system should support creativity, which is often not the case. All children are creative, but the education system often prevents them from expressing it. Addressing this issue, Estonia established a robotics fair “Robotex” at the beginning of the millennium, where five-year-old boys and girls compete in the construction of robots. In this way, women become a part of the engineering world, which is often dominated by men – Ratso stressed.

According to her, it is also important to promote entrepreneurship in primary schools, so that children can experiment with ideas and see if they are sustainable.

At the same time, one can establish a company in Estonia online, completing all administrative requirements in a single day. All the necessary documentation can be obtained online. In addition, one can declare taxes in three minutes, vote electronically in the elections and so on.

The European Commission is proposing a total budget of EUR 100 billion for Horizon Europe 2021-2027, and the European Parliament and the European Council will adopt a decision thereon by the end of the year – Ratso said.


Source: Pobjeda