Long live Europe, trend 7: Europe was, is and will remain one of the most important producers of scientific knowledge in the world

There will be more local self-supply or even autarky in the new world, for instance in energy systems. But whereas in the past, autarky equalled shortage and even poverty, in the future this will equal a high level of knowledge and of regional self-confidence.

The future autarkic communities of the biobased society will try to create as much wealth as possible from local resources, and that may result in different outcomes in different regions. But in one respect mutual solidarity of regions is an absolute prerequisite, and that is in knowledge sharing. Communication, in particular on scientific discoveries, technical opportunities and innovative governance and participation schemes, will be of the essence. The exchange of knowledge will become as important as that of merchandise – we could even imagine that in the long run, knowledge centres might fulfil the functions of our present main ports.

Europe will have a pivotal role in this new world. This world might even be unsuccessful without an active European role. Europe is one of the most important knowledge suppliers of the world. That is the result of a very long tradition that held research in high esteem, in budgetary terms as well. Horizon 2020, the most recent in a series of research programs, continues in the vein of this tradition. Europe as much as owed this to itself, after the failure of the Lisbon strategy, that was aimed to turn Europe into the most innovative society by 2010. Horizon 2020 has survived the budgetary negotiations quite well, and it is characterised by a number of well-chosen spearheads.

Many of Europe’s strong knowledge positions contribute excellently to a more sustainable and biobased society. Like for instance solar and wind energy, chemical and enzymatic catalysis, chemical process technology, and agricultural cultivation methods. European is particularly strong in the application of complex knowledge, when many disciplines have to cooperate. With its long-standing experience and its long traditions, Europe will continue to produce excellent researchers; that is, if budgets would stay at a high level, and if public opinion would not turn against the ‘elite’ of scientists.

One of the focal points of Horizon 2020 is BII, the Biobased Industries Initiative, a public-private partnership of the European biobased industry and the European Commission. BII is a major research and innovation program. The European Union contributes € 1 billion, and the European industries have committed themselves to € 2.8 billion. The program is very ambitious, in the sense that BII aims to develop entire production chains, and hence expressly wants to bridge gaps between existing sectors. Contrary to earlier European research programs, the program does not only include research, but also industrial development. The program has a horizon of seven years, and has a progressive programming, fully controlled by the industrial partners. The initiative comes at the right moment, because many European biobased processes are on the brink of commercialisation, which implies the threat of many valleys of death. BII aims to strengthen the biobased initiatives in Europe.

Europe may be one of the most important knowledge suppliers of the world, but is has a long standing poor success rate in the valorisation of that knowledge. Partly, this is due to the risk averse attitude of European financiers, now even strengthened by the banking crisis. Traditionally, venture capital is much more easily acquired in the US than in Europe. Asia has a growing supply of very well trained researchers (in India, more engineers graduate annually than in entire Europe), who work at a lower wage. Moreover, the US and the Asian countries have better financial stimulating regulations for innovative investments. Europe therefore should exert itself to bridge this gap.

Bridging this gap might very well be in the form of a better cooperation between Western and Eastern Europe. Western Europe generates the majority of the knowledge, but is has a less favourable economic and fiscal climate for scaling up technology and valorising the knowledge. Eastern Europe has many skilled technologists and a lower wage level. An economic system that consists of developing knowledge in Western Europe, while valorising it in Eastern Europe, might therefore be successful. The biobased economy lends itself quite aptly to the creation of such a scheme.

In combination with a culture of trust instead of mistrust, this could lead to an increase in both wealth and sustainability, sustained by the regions (as clarified in the precedent trends). An ongoing regionalisation as we foresee, will promote rather than hamper cooperation and growth on the basis of knowledge. Regions are better at cooperation than nation states, because their authorities have less power, therefore have a lesser urge to compete, and will be better rooted in a regional self-confidence.

This article consists of the following paragraphs:
Does the future look grim?
Trend 1. Women will take the lead
Trend 2. Organisations will be founded on trust
Trend 3. New social networks are on the rise
Trend 4. Sustainability as a common goal
Trend 5. Decentralisation of industry in a biobased society
Trend 6. Small-scale energy systems
Trend 7. Europe was, is and will remain one of the most important producers of scientific knowledge in the world
Conclusion: think global, act local

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