When publishing its EUROPE 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth back in 2010 the European Commission put forward a headline target of 3% of the EU’s GDP to be invested in R&D.

This makes sense, especially as research, science and innovation have the potential to improve economic and societal development, especially when they are underpinned by education. Yet, the Commission has a long way to go to achieve its ambition. Technological innovation and digitalisation of societal and business communities are adding an extra layer of complexity, both economically and politically. Whilst digitalisation helps industry speed up R&D processes, governments face the challenge of speeding up regulation in more complex areas of ethical standards, compliance requirements and intellectual property rights.

The task of spearheading the Commission’s policy on “all things digital” lies with Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s vice-president for the Digital Single Market. Although it is too early to assess his chances to succeed, the widespread sentiment that Europe has somehow missed the digital revolution should be an incentive to run the extra mile and try to catch up.

Digitalization of processes allows for virtual research and development platforms to be created, even between different companies, where engineers no longer need to physically sit in one room to apply science, be creative and innovate. New cooperative models such as co-creation and crowd innovation give a different notion to what once used to be a stable and predictable business environment. In the short term probably the most important challenge will be to align regulatory work to the ever increasing innovation speed in the digital world.

More efforts should be made to innovate regulatory processes to move beyond the current “catching-up” mode. To achieve that, self-regulation in business will need to be stimulated to start with. Another important challenge will be to enhance public private partnerships and develop new ways to finance innovation.

In the long run the one challenge that incorporates many other ones is the need to install a “culture of innovation” at all levels in the EU. Advocating a culture of innovation is one thing, making it happen will be the real challenge. One thing is for sure: it will require a new mind-set, the courage to rethink long-standing ways of doing research, the creativity to adopt innovative manners to deal with intellectual property and copyrights. It will require a lot of public private engagement, communication, testing and experimenting. And foremost, it will require the willingness to think differently and acknowledge that digital changes everything.

This topic will be debated at the European Business Summit on 6th of May https://www.ebsummit.eu/program