When commission president Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled his €315bn investment plan, he announced that a major focus of the project would be research and innovation. The two terms are indeed recurrent in policy debates and official EU communications, often seen as the key to unlocking the EU's growth and employment potential. Therefore, as European research, science and innovation commissioner, Carlos Moedas is in charge of a crucial portfolio. After training as an engineer in his native Portugal and then studying at Harvard business school, he worked in investment banking for a number of years before joining the Portuguese parliament and later the prime minister's cabinet as secretary of state. Armed with a combination of scientific, business and political knowledge, Moedas tells this magazine, "I fought hard for this portfolio, because I think research and innovation are the motors of our prosperity".
"We can't tackle the major challenges - of competitiveness, green transport, clean energy, food security, long-term health risks - without research"
He has set out three clear objectives for himself, explaining, "one is to ensure sufficient investments in research and innovation. With the new investment plan, we'll ensure we leverage more money to benefit European research, especially the kind that can be turned into developed products. And I want to make sure that Horizon 2020 continues to bring maximum benefits to European researchers and businesses. Second, I want to improve the administrative, financial and logistical conditions for research to thrive in a common European research area. And finally, to nurture excellence to make Europe the place to do research. That especially means we need to support curiosity driven research to get the best talent at home and abroad."
Moedas is firmly convinced that "our economic growth stems from our capacity to explore, learn and innovate as a society". In his role, he stresses, "I want to make sure we maximise this potential across Europe and improve our global competitiveness. But at the same time, I also see my role as one that can provide input to other areas of the commission's work. We can't tackle the major challenges - of competitiveness, green transport, clean energy, food security, long-term health risks - without research. That’s why I intend to work closely with my colleagues in different project teams to address the key challenges outlined in the commission’s political guidelines."
The Portuguese official also points out that his portfolio "touches upon many issues, from transport and energy, ICT to finance. My portfolio is therefore well suited to contribute to very different EU policy areas. The new commission's emphasis on cooperation and finding synergies is therefore something I see as an opportunity for all of us to address the major challenges together. And I see that research can make a substantial contribution to the work of the different project teams I am involved in. Whether it's working in the steering groups of the vice-presidents for better regulation, growth and jobs, the energy union or the digital single market - our common goal is to find the solutions to benefit all of Europe and its citizens."
"Our economic growth stems from our capacity to explore, learn and innovate as a society"
Moedas also hopes to work closely with parliament, with whom he wants "a strong, open dialogue". He underlines that he has "already met with the members of the industry, research and energy committee", adding, "we have a long run ahead of us, but a clear direction to work for the benefit of European research and innovation."
In terms of specific projects, the commissioner tells this magazine, "ICT and energy research are strongly embedded in the Horizon 2020 programme. ICT research is a strong component of Horizon 2020 measures that support the EU's leading industries, and the developments on new key enabling technologies. With such a broad focus on industrywide innovations, the research undertaken can definitely make a big contribution to creating a connected digital single market. Similarly, energy and climate change research is one of the key societal challenges dealt with in the Horizon 2020 programme. In this area, at least 85 per cent of the budget will address non-fossil fuel areas with at least 15 per cent of it going towards developing renewables and energy saving technologies."
Carlos Moedas is European research, science and innovation commissioner