Investment in basic research a necessity

A strong commitment to basic research is a precondition for meeting the challenges associated with globalisation. This was one of the main conclusions in former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho’s presentation at the seminar “Nordic competitiveness in a global world”.
There is a large gap between the policy rhetoric preaching the knowledge society and the reality of budgetary priorities. New figures show that the Scandinavian countries used a smaller percentage of BNP on R&D in 2005 compared to 2003, while Finland and Iceland were stable at the 2003 level.

Esko Aho – president of the Finnish national fund for research and development (Sitra) – pointed out that the Nordic regions’ ability to solve current challenges is to a large extent based on research investments made several years ago. In order to maintain the Nordic welfare model in the future, a continued focus on research is important.

A strengthened research effort means that also the private sector must do its share. A recent study carried out for the European Commission shows that the lack of demanding and novelty-seeking customers who are willing to pay for upgraded or novel services is a major barrier to enterprise research. The Nordic region is in a special position in this respect, as Nordic user groups tend to be very adaptable and willing to learn. Aho accentuated that this is a position of strength that we should exploit to a greater extent in the future.

He stressed that the Nordic comparative advantage should be built on solutions combining the three elements - more R&D, new applications and informed consumers.

An additional precondition for making the Nordic region a lead region in Europe is to overcome current structural barriers to constructing a true “single market” for research.

The seminar, co-organised by the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers in Copenhagen on 29-30 March, gathered some sixty representatives from industry, policy and universities in order to discuss the challenges associated with globalisation.