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Just 3 months ago, the 20th EU-CHINA Summit took place in Beijing and we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the EU-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. 

  • For 2027, among the EU’s trading partners, EU was the number one supplier of China and China the number two supplier of the EU.
  • In 2017, Trade in goods between EU and China was worth 11.93 billion RMB A DAY.  The EU exported 1.581 trillion RMB billion to CHINA and imported EUR nearby 3 trillion RMB. As the third largest service trade partner of the EU, China exported 239.65 billon RMB of services to the EU while the EU exported 303.65 billion RMB to China in 2016.

This decisive and long vested partnership is taking a special turn with the souring of the relationship between the US and CHINA. In the vision of a multipolar balanced geostrategic order, the main tripod was US-CHINA-EU.  US-CHINA relationship used to loom larger than the one with the EU.  The relationship between the EU and China has always been more cumbersome because on the complexity of the EU architecture. On top of the traditional state-to-state bilateral diplomacy, China had to be active with the EU and its main institutions: the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, as well as their 28 EU member states. 

President Xi knows precisely whom to call when it comes to the US. To Whom should he give a phone call when it comes to the EU? JUNCKER, TUSK, MACRON, MERKEL? MOGHERINI?  May be most of you do not even know precisely who Donald Tusk is.

Beyond this lack of clarity on leadership, The EU and China face the common task of 

  • Achieving innovative, inclusive and sustainable development. 
  • Addressing climate change, 
  • Protecting the environment, 
  • Promoting transparent international energy markets 
  • and Facilitating resource-efficient, far-reaching, socially inclusive and low-carbon development policies 

These topics are high on the international action list. All these ladies and gentlemen leads to China EU relationship becoming the most crucial one. A lot of attention and energy is shifting to this direction. This major shift is also clearly emphasized by the Belt and Road Initiative policy which leads to EUROPE.

How does Europe stand with Innovation?

Europe has a very long history of being at the cutting edge of innovation in science and technology. 

Currently the EU is still considered to be the world’s most innovative economy. According to the 2018 Global Innovation Index (GII), eight European countries, including Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Ireland are in the Top 10. The EU has issued many innovation-related policies, including Horizon 2020 and the following program called Horizon Europe

Horizon 2020 is a 615 billion RMB (the 77 billion EUR) program. It is the biggest multinational research program in the world. It supports all projects throughout the Research and Innovation (R&I) cycle and puts particular emphasis on coupling research with innovation to deliver breakthrough solutions. Horizon 2020 opens to the entire world. Its overarching goal is a more coherent, simpler system that will make it easier for everyone to participate, especially for academia, research organizations, SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and businesses, from both European and non-European countries.

In the past few years, Horizon 2020 has contributed to high-profile scientific breakthroughs such as the discovery of exoplanets and gravitational waves. In December 2017, the European Commission announced it would spend 239.55 billion RMB (30 billion EUR) on the EU research and innovation funding program Horizon 2020 for 2018-2020. 

Over the next 3 years, the European Commission will seek greater impact of its research funding by focusing on fewer, but critical topics such as migration, security / climate / clean energy and digital economy. 

Horizon 2020 will also be more geared towards boosting breakthrough, market-creating innovation. Between 2018 and 2020, the Commission will mobilize EUR 2.7 billion from Horizon 2020 to support high-risk, high-gain innovation to create the markets of the future. 

On top of bringing a closer focus and go market oriented, Horizon 2020 will make better use of what they call the “crack the challenge” prizes. This means that Horizon 2020 will seek at delivering breakthrough technology solutions to pressing problems faced by the whole world.

The new Work Program also strengthens international cooperation in research and innovation. It will invest over EUR 1 billion in 30 flagship initiatives in areas of mutual benefit.

New Horizon Europe : The next European science and research funding program, known as Horizon Europe (2021-2027) with a budget of 799 billion RMB (EUR 100 billion) was adopted by the European Commission on 7 June 2018. This 7-year European Union scientific research initiative is meant to succeed the current Horizon 2020 program. The plans for Horizon Europe contain a lot of continuity with Horizon 2020 but also some new elements such as the establishment of a European Innovation Council to promote innovation and the introduction of mission-oriented research.

Many EU member states also have very effective supporting policies for innovation and entrepreneurship. 

As for Belgium, it is a small EU economy and very open to international trade and FDI. Its economy is strongly service-oriented and it has a number of internationally competitive technology sectors (e.g. chemicals, life sciences and ICT). Belgium is a federal country composed of three communities (Flemish, French and German-speaking) and three regions (Brussels-Capital Region (BCR), Flanders and Wallonia). Each region has identified its own Science and Technology Innovation (STI) plans and priority areas. The federal level mainly targets on the aerospace sector with more than 1,597.67 million RMB (EUR 200 million)per year contribution to the European Space Agency. 

Brussels Capital Region’s Regional Innovation Plan (2015-2020) focuses on specific sectorial niches and on R&D and innovation to meet societal challenges. The priority sectors identified are ICT, health care and environment.  Wallonia’s Marshall Plan 4.0 (2015-2019) adopts the regional smart specialization strategy with the focus of green technologies, health, energy and digital economy. 

Flanders’ Governing Agreement (2014-2019) streamlines the organizational structures. Flanders is one of the most prosperous regions with an all range of innovation entities that are actively coordinated and facilitated by the Flemish Government. IMEC linked to the University of Leuven is a well-known front runner in research on nano integrated circuit. 

What do these huge schemes mean for the EU-China cooperation in innovation?

A special emphasis has been set in the framework of the EU-China Agreement for Scientific and Technological Cooperation. It comprehends the EU-China Steering Committee and the EU-China Innovation Cooperation Dialogue.

It involves industry, universities and research institutes, so as to tackle common challenges; complement mutual strengths and deliver win-win results in the areas of

  • human resources, 
  • skills, 
  • technology, 
  • research infrastructure, 
  • financing of innovation, 
  • exploitation of research findings, 
  • entrepreneurship and framework conditions for innovation 

As a result we may expect spectacular joint EU-Chinese breakthrough within the fields of food, agriculture, sustainable urbanization, aviation, water, health and ICT, by developing joint funding programs and promoting enhanced mutual participation of Chinese and EU researchers and innovators into respective programs.

THREATS : The situation is less easy when it comes to the other key fields which are Nanotechnologies, Biotech, IT related technologies in which Artificial Intelligence is looming large. There is a fierce competition between the 3 blocks to become the leaders in these. Europe has not been able to set up its own MICROSOFT, AMAZONE, GOOGLE, China did with Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba…. What will happen when it comes to the emerging new Bigtec that will dominate the next wave of NBIC? We know that CHINA is extremely thirsty of new technologies able to provide a competitive edge especially in Artificial Intelligence.

We should do whatever it takes to avoid sound protection to lead to protectionism and protectionism to lead to confrontation.

With the rise of United States unilateralism and trade protectionism, both China and the European Union are stuck in their own trade disputes with the US. Both sides believe that China and the EU have a common interest in defending the global multilateral trading system and we must resolutely oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism. As I said previously and wish to emphasize, we should prevent such behavior from causing volatility and recession in the global economy. By deepening the EU and China cooperation in innovation cooperation, we will build our collective capacity to strength our economic competitiveness. We will prepare and lead the way for future industrial revolutions. 

We need to defuse US’s unilateralism and trade protectionism.  Science and technology are fundamental building blocks for all of us and innovation is the drive of economic growth and prosperity. It is the right time and in the long-term interests for both the EU and China to work together to encourage innovation cooperation and establish the transnational innovation networks and ecosystems. The EU and China should strengthen their links in science and technology innovation to better face common challenges. This is also the reason why we establish the EU-China Joint Innovation Center.

EUCJIC  : EU-China Joint Innovation Center (EUCJIC) has been established in Brussels with the support from members of European Parliament, ambassadors of EU member states to China and, European politicians, entrepreneurs and innovation institutions for enhancing the cooperation and exchanges between Europe and China in scientific and technological innovation. EUCJIC is committed to the integration of EU-China technology, joint innovation, and joint venture start-up. 

This won’t be easy. Trust will be at the core of this. EUCJIC will do whatever it takes to foster trust and achieve win-win results. EUCJIC is adamantly building four platforms:

  • a  high-quality innovative resource platform that collects European innovation resources from the governments, industries, universities and research institutions and connect them with matching Chinese universities, institutions and enterprises; 
  • an innovative financial platform that gathers the top investment banks, venture capital funds and venture capital firms domestically and internationally; 
  • an innovation exchange platform that is committed to organizing and promoting the practical cooperation between Europe and China through various activities such as summits, forums, conferences, events, and innovation clubs; 
  • an innovative service platform that provides comprehensive and integrated services for EU-China business cooperation in innovation and entrepreneurship area.

We hope that we shall have more opportunities to cooperate with more Chinese local governments, innovation and entrepreneurial companies, incubators and accelerators, so that we can jointly contribute to China-EU joint innovation and upgrade the “Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation” in China

Patrick Nijs

Honorary Ambassador and Global Facilitator /  Co-founder of EUCJIC