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Advisory report 31: Optimal weighing on and responding to EU research, innovation and industrial policy

27 September 2023

In this report, VARIO wants to indicate how Flanders can best respond to European policy to get the most benefits from it. Moreover, how can we optimise the way in which Flanders helps shape European policy?

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European research, innovation and industrial policy exerts increasing influence on Flemish policy in this area. The upcoming Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the upcoming (also European) elections are an excellent moment to reflect on this. The advisory report should also be a catalyst to raise Flemish political awareness of the increasing importance of the European level.

Structure of the report

To substantiate the opinion, the accompanying background report contains an overview of the functioning of the European Union, the policy priorities, the instruments, and an analysis of how Flanders is doing today in the context of various EU initiatives. This report was prepared through desk research and thanks to input from experts and others. The draft report by colleagues from the EWI Department on Flemish participation in the EU framework programmes we used has meanwhile been published. VARIO also organised a series of workshops and interviews with actors, officials and policymakers in which it noted positive and negative elements of Flanders' strategic orientation towards the EU. A summarising overview of the opinions that were collected in this way is included as an appendix to the advisory report.

Observations and recommendations

Flanders is often successful in EU initiatives. Flanders has also built some strong structures for interaction with the EU level, but the whole is a complex and fragmented landscape. In eight recommendations, VARIO indicates where it believes there are opportunities for improvement:

  1. Provide a strategic framework, both to better respond to opportunities and to weigh more on the agenda setting, within the framework of European science, innovation, entrepreneurship and industrial policy. Ensure convergence and synergy between Flemish and European policies.
  2. Work towards a stronger Flemish political presence in Europe. Strive for unified Belgian positions. When a Belgian position is not possible, seek alliances with like-minded member states, federated states and regions.
  3. Put more effort into strategically proactively weighing in on European science, innovation, entrepreneurship and industrial policy. Provide sufficient capacity for this and specifically give an existing Flemish organisation or an alliance of existing organisations that role. In addition, help actors to lobby more and better themselves.
  4. Continue to put maximum effort into the European framework programme for research and innovation. In addition, invest more in other European programmes and initiatives such as the ETS Innovation Fund, the European Space Program, the European Defence Fund, the Critical Raw Materials Act and the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform.
  5. Monitor Flemish benefits more broadly than just for the framework programme for research and innovation. Preferably do this in a centralised and standardised manner. This should help estimate where additional Flemish support and efforts are needed, obviously always following the subsidiarity principle
  6. Facilitate the participation of Flemish SMEs in those European initiatives that offer a clear added value compared to Flemish funding. Encourage the role that universities, SOCs and large companies can play in this regard.
  7. Make clear choices in which European projects to co-finance and provide adequate resources for this, from separate budgets.
  8. Make strategic choices where additional frameworks for state support are provided. For chosen projects, use support in its full strength. Avoid too strict conditions for support.