NEWS

Deepening research lag hurts the country

Greece consistently lags other European Union countries in research and technology, a trend that is hurting the country’s prospects for economic development and prompting concerned government officials to take action. The country’s lag in research will affect Greece’s economy and society in the long term and exclude Greece from targets agreed upon in Lisbon. Expenditure on research and technology in Greece accounts for 0.60 percent of GDP whereas the EU average is 1.9 percent. The EU aims to raise this figure to 3 percent over the next few years and even the mediocre Greek target figure of 1.5 percent is considered unattainable. Unless Greece pushes strongly and without delay to catch up with the rest of Europe, the country will remain a technological backwater. This will affect employment, company operations and development in the next few years. Acute problems Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is especially concerned about the lack of advancement in research and technology in the country. In a recent speech, he said that investment in new technology and research was a priority of the national strategic plan in order to «ensure a digital advantage for development.» Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas has also placed it high on his list of priorities. Recently, Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou was asked to monitor the sector and provide guidelines that would accelerate decision making to improve the country’s embarrassingly low ranking in this area. The Sioufas plan for research aims to produce a bill that will reorganize the sector completely. Greece ranks last among the EU-15 in technology and research. Among the EU-25 member states it ranks at the bottom along with Poland and just ahead of Slovenia, Latvia, Malta and Cyprus. The European Commission finds this alarming. On June 15, a meeting took place in Athens between the Commission’s research directorate and Greek government officials. On June 16, a closed working meeting of EU experts, ministry officials, state organizations and private enterprises was held in Lavrion. Everyone was eager to explain this phenomenon of «zero research activity» in what is classified as a developed economy worldwide. Commission officials consider the low absorption of funds for research in Greece a paradox. They say Greece has the human resources and research arms to absorb available community funds for research. Though expenditure in research in Greece is very low, research staff account for 1.21 percent of the work force, which is not far from the EU average of 1.31 percent. Even though the target will reach 1.5 percent of GDP in research expenditure (half the EU projected target), this is considered to be impossible under current circumstances in Greece. In other countries, the figure presents no obstacle. Efforts elsewhere The Commission has informed the government about other efforts to accelerate progress in countries that rank higher than Greece. Spain plans to lower taxation for companies that invest in research, a measure that is already applicable in the Netherlands. Hungary has simplified the system of tax benefits for research activities, whereas in France similar research incentives will be trebled by 2010. In Germany studies are being made into the possibility of granting researchers a «grace period» so that they can publish their research findings without losing their rights to patents. In Spain state research centers are being reorganized so that they can acquire the autonomy of private enterprises. The country is also subsidizing the recruiting of experts with doctorates to enterprises. A similar program to foster the recruitment of scientists with a PhD is being implemented in Denmark. Estonia has pledged to increase its high-quality scientific staff by 50 percent in corporations. Nearly all the European countries are taking measures to increase the employment of high-grade scientists in the private sector. But Greece could lose the latest wave of scientists to other countries which offer better opportunities. Scientists of Greek descent already comprise top scientific staff in the best European and American universities.