Innovation laggards

Greece’s governments have for the most part ducked the issue of the country’s low spending on research and development. Most of the people have come to accept an anachronistic perception which sees relatively small and poor nations as lacking the capacity to innovate and develop pioneering products and services. However data released yesterday by the European Commission prove the skeptics wrong. According to the latest scoreboard from EU’s executive arm, Greece ranks a low 23rd among the bloc’s 25 members in innovation spending. In other words, eight of the EU’s newcomers – whose level of economic development is lower than Greece’s – put more emphasis on innovation than does this country. Only Latvia and Malta spend less than Greece on innovation. The data refute the belief that the absence of innovation in the public and private sectors results from a lack of funds. Countries that are poorer than Greece nonetheless manage to invest more in research, opening their path to long-term prosperity. It is certain that without drastic action, Greece will soon fall behind these nations as well. Greece’s big innovation gap is the result of an ineffective public sector and stifled competition in the private sector. Many private companies see no reason to put money into scientific and technological research to increase sales. The state is often their biggest client or biggest competitor; hence to them, there is no clear benefit from such spending. More rewarding is to invest in public relations. Barring a few exceptions, research at universities is similarly superficial, as it aims primarily to raise the income of academic staff and to increase the absorption of European Union funds. The absence of innovation is a serious structural problem that in the long run prevents Greece from catching up with more advanced states. The government cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the yawning innovation gap which threatens to throw the country off the path to development.

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