EU ranks Ireland ninth of 27 for R&D, innovation
IRELAND has scooped moderate praise for efforts to boost research and innovation, ranking ninth out of 27 countries on the EU's latest scoreboard.
Dubbed a "follower" rather than a leader -- the latter title was reserved for EU high-flyers Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany -- Ireland won acclaim for having a highly educated workforce and a burgeoning high-tech sector.
The scoreboard places Ireland above the EU average, but below the UK, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands in the "follower" category.
This country scored second out of 27 when it came to generating benefits from high-tech industries, with government coffers getting a massive boost from international patent and licensing royalties last year.
However, Ireland is likely to fall in similar rankings this year as it has committed to abolishing a tax exemption for patent royalties as part of the EU-IMF bailout plan.
Kudos was also won for the proportion of university graduates in the population, with Ireland coming third behind Sweden and Finland.
But the country loses face on public and private R&D funding, coming 17th out of 27 countries on the scoreboard.
Ireland also scored below average on the number of SMEs pumping cash into research and development.
The EU says research funding should measure at least 3pc of annual output, but Ireland consistently spends well below 2pc of its gross domestic product.
In 2008 -- the last year for which figures are available -- the public and private sectors combined spent a total of 1.43pc of GDP on research. The EU average is 1.9pc.
However, in the 2011 Budget, the Government has made provisions for a €500m innovation fund to entice venture capitalists to Ireland and says it will invest €570m in science and research over the year. It has also given an €11m boost to Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).
Fine Gael has pledged to donate €10,000 in government from the national science and innovation strategy to help SMEs undertake new research, as well as a quango-busting programme that would include a merger between SFI and the Health Research Board.
Party leader Enda Kenny has already been to visit Ireland's EU commissioner, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, to discuss the issue.
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, who holds the innovation portfolio, praised the outgoing Government for its efforts in the 2011 Budget -- despite "going through very difficult economic times" -- and said she wished them well in the upcoming elections.
She made her comments after warning that the 27-member bloc faced an "innovation emergency" and was under threat from competition in the US and Japan, with emerging countries such as Brazil, India and China "breathing down our necks".
Innovation and energy are the dual focus of a special EU summit taking place on Friday, where leaders, including Taoiseach Brian Cowen, will hold separate talks on how to improve the functioning of the bloc's bailout funds.