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 Policy Blog

Belgium among the top innovation followers in the EU

Date: 16/02/2012 17:00:00

With a well educated population and highly creative SMEs, Belgium ranks among the five most innovative countries in Europe, reported the European Commission last week.

Belgium remains one of Europe’s top Innovation Followers, mainly thanks to its well-structured research system and an array of creative companies. The strong 5th place among all EU countries confirms Belgium’s drive for innovativeness.

In its recent Innovation Union Scoreboard 2011 published on February 7, the European Commission divides EU countries into four groups, depending on their innovation performance and potential. Although not ranked among the Innovation Leaders like Sweden, Denmark or Germany, Belgium has been classified at the top of the second group, Innovation Followers, with a performance above the EU27 average.

Belgium scores highly for a substantial number of international scientific co-publications. Also, Belgian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) perform better than the average regarding in-house innovativeness, public private research and inter-company innovation collaboration. In addition, the Commission praises Belgium for its highly educated population, a key feature of the Belgian knowledge economy for some years now.

Furthermore, Belgium scores surprisingly well with regards to the availability of venture capital. In this context, Belgium not only performs better than the EU average, but also the venture capital available is growing faster than in many other EU countries. An open, well structured and attractive research system is another strong feature of Belgian innovativeness.

The Commission also points to a number of shortcomings, however. One of these is the marketing of innovation and sale of innovative products and knowledge-intensive services to markets and companies, a point which has also been made in AmCham Belgium’s US Direct Investment in Belgium (USDI) Report 2011. What’s more, this is related to a weak protection of intellectual property rights, as noted by the Commission. Another weak point is a poor level of non-R&D innovation expenditure, both by public institutions and private businesses.

According to the Commission, the innovation performance of the whole EU area has improved and the EU lead over emerging economies is clearly visible. At the same time, however, the EU’s innovation performance growth is slowing down, seeing the gap between Europe and global innovation leaders like US, Japan and South Korea increasing. In other words, the key goal of becoming the most competitive knowledge economy in the world has become even more distant.

“This year’s results are a clear warning that more efforts to boost innovation are needed. If we want to close the gap with our main economic partners and to overcome the current crisis, innovation deserves all our attention,” said Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship.

AmCham Belgium’s position
One of the main policy recommendations by AmCham Belgium is the reinforcement of the support for R&D and innovation activities as key to economic growth. Successful innovation makes a difference, particularly regarding higher productivity, investment attractiveness and cross-sector growth rates. However, Belgium is not yet an innovation leader and will have to implement an array of structural measures – from increasing public R&D expenditure to extending the withholding tax exemption for R&D – if it wants to become one. For more information about the Chamber’s policy recommendations on R&D and growth, please see the 2011 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium.



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