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National R&I landscapes: R&I performance, modernizing strategies and deficits of the current system

R&I performance

In all the countries that we analysed, R&I topics are generally high on the political agenda, reflecting the importance of R&I for economic development and its relevance for catching up with increased global competition. However, the broader S&T policies are developed in a difficult situation. On the one hand, in most of the countries involved, the economic situation is difficult. With the exception of Ireland and Wallonia, all national economies are lagging behind the EU28 average development in terms of their gross domestic product (GDP). Furthermore, due in part to their relatively weak economic performance, the expenditures and investments in R&I of these countries are (in some cases significantly) below the European average. For the Central and Eastern European countries, this is undoubtedly due to the fact that their economic modernization is a disappointingly slow and conflicting process, involving political and social tensions. Thus, economic growth in these countries seems to be rather fragile, economic forecasts. The people in these countries are disappointed by this development because people had expected fast-paced improvements in their quality of life. Instead, citizens still experience many constraints in different fields: political (democracy-deficit), social (poverty, problems in health care, education, housing and so on) and human-economic factors (high proportion of unskilled workers, lack of job prospects and permanent gap between the developed and backward regions). However, some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, have already achieved considerable progress in increasing their share of private R&I investment. Both Portugal and Ireland are in a process of restructuring their economies from a model dominated by agricultural structures to a modern knowledge-based economy – and Ireland has been extremely successful in this respect in the last two decades. However, precisely because they were in the middle of a complex and expensive process of restructuring, the financial crisis struck these countries hard and the strain on public budgets led to a decrease in R&I expenditures. Belgium (Wallonia) is the only studied country that can be regarded as being in a position similar to the average European capitalist economies, especially because Wallonia is undergoing a shift from traditional industrial structures to an S&T-based economy and invests heavily in research clusters in order to manage this transition.

Modernizing strategies

Generally, building up the economy sets the main frame for R&I policy making. All the countries that were explored have set up national innovation strategies to modernize the R&I system, attract private investments and improve competitiveness. The key targets listed in governmental R&I programmes and strategies can also be read as a list of the typical deficiencies of R&I governance, infrastructures and strategies.

In most of the countries that were explored, a set of institutions exists, which give advice to the political sphere (policy makers and government) on a regular basis, be they specialized expert committees connected to ministries, specific funding programmes or national science policy councils. National R&I councils mainly represent Academies of Sciences, industry, universities, public administration and the non-profit sector. They have been established to coordinate reform strategies and to advise the government. In the case of the Czech Republic, the Council for Research, Development and Innovation has almost taken over the role played by a ministry and is more or less designed to centralize the system of R&I and even to take over micromanagement tasks (Pokorny et al., 2012: 69). Because research councils mainly represent academia, industry and public administration, they can be regarded as an element of academic self-administration and expert policy advice. The involvement of industry is meant to establish closer relations between public and private research bodies in order to improve innovation performance. Advice is mainly addressed to the government and rarely to the national parliament.

It is apparent that strategic advice with regard to the future development of research and innovation strategies given by these institutions is motivated by national efforts to improve the competitiveness of the national economy ('economy first'). Compared to these activities, policy advice with regard to future (controversial) technological or scientific development is of minor relevance. This is in line with the fact that foresight methods are frequently applied by governmental agencies to assess the economic strategic planning (for instance, the recently published 'National Research Infrastructure Survey and Roadmap' in Hungary), whereas TA as a means of policy advice is almost unknown in many countries.

Problems and deficits of current R&I governance systems

The country studies reveal a plethora of activities to modernize R&I structures as well as R&I governance systems. The problem is often not a lack of institutional reforms and new agencies but rather a lack of functionality and efficacy. Interviews and workshops revealed scepticism with regard to the effectiveness of newly established systems and strategies by actors from academia and policy making, as well as industry and civil society.

In general, the effectiveness of strategies seems to be compromised by discontinuity and a lack of focus mainly because of quickly changing political agendas driven by short-term tactics and by quickly shifting political power. Discontinuity in setting up reforms is reported as being explicitly a main weakness of R&I policies for Hungary, Bulgaria and Lithuania, due to shifting parliamentary majorities or a general lack of coordination strategies. Thus, innovation strategies are often perceived as 'activism' since they apparently result in constant reorganization of strategic planning. For example, each government in Hungary initiated a reorganization of the policy making and advice structure in R&I at least once in their four-year term (Mosoni-Fried et al., 2012: 113).

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