Sharing ideas in science, technology and innovation

Monthly Archives: October 2012

The major political project that launched the European Single Market in 1992 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It encompassed 287 actions agreed by 12 governments. At that time, goods were still stopped at internal frontiers and 300 pieces of information were collected for each shipment!

Since then, the EU has grown to 27 members, and the Single Market has continued to evolve. The goal is to achieve an economic area in which goods, services, people and capital can move freely. Much has been done in all 4 areas. The Single Market adds 2.13% or £187 billion to the GDP of the 27 EU Member States, £400 for every person in the EU and 2.77 million new jobs have been created.

In any large and complex organisation, even when there is a common aim, getting there is never easy. In advancing European policies, major steps take much political negotiation. The biggest recent advance has been the opening of the services market in 2006, after 3 years of tough arguments!

But the rewards are worth fighting for. Exploiting the Single Market will make a major contribution to economic recovery and job creation. This is why the European Parliament and all EU Prime Ministers, with David Cameron as a strong advocate, have committed to a new political programme, the Single Market Act, the first since 1992. The projects in its first and second phase should address many outstanding barriers and restrictions, and be delivered by the end of 2013.

Projects in the Act focus on the full implementation and enforcement of Single Market rules, especially for Services and Consumer Rights; cutting red tape that is still strangling goods and services, especially for small enterprises and speedy agreement on public procurement reforms, with new tools to encourage public buyers to buy from innovative companies.

Exploiting the internet, and the impact of the Single Market in cutting broadband and mobile data costs has huge potential for cross border business. The creation of a digital single market could add more than £700 billion a year to the EU economy, equivalent to £3800 for each household. There are clear commitments to bring the Single Market into the digital age, including reforms to cross border payments, data protection, electronic signatures and intellectual property. More still needs to be done here. There is likely to be a 3rd phase of work pushing digital frontiers still further.

But the Single Market must work for all consumers and citizens. It is not just for enterprises! The Single Market Act programme includes measures to ensure safer products, improved rights for consumers, especially when making package travel bookings online, enhanced monitoring of the retail sector, and simplified procedures for registering cars in other Member States. It is important for consumers to be able to exert their rights by promoting the use of model contracts for cross-border purchases.

But the Single Market cannot be inward looking – it’s about imports and exports outside the EU as well as cross-border movement of goods and services. There will be better risk management systems, product testing and enhanced market surveillance, particularly for products imported from outside the EU, especially from China.

A fully functioning Single Market provides a strong foundation for other key policies to make the European Union a globally competitive and highly innovative region. We must encourage companies to take advantage of a very large, easily accessible market by investing in research and development. The impact of the new Horizon 2020 research programme will be multiplied by an open market environment. Researchers must be able to move freely and exchange ideas across the European Research Area.

The Single Market has opened up enormous opportunities to study, play and work abroad. However, as it hits its 20th anniversary we still have much to do to unlock its full potential. We need to embrace the Single Market as the greatest driver the EU has to deliver much-needed jobs and economic growth. Working together is vital. It’s time to be single-minded about the Single Market.

Malcolm Harbour is a West Midlands Conservative MEP, Chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and Birmingham Science City Board Member


Stimulating presentations at the latest Science Capital event-  Drugs, Diagnostics and Delivery: Pharmaceutical discovery through partnership- got me thinking about how much innovation is down to chance and how much is down to expertise and strategic thinking.  We like it when something good occurs out of happenstance.  We also get satisfaction from knowing that efficient planning, organisation and hard work have given us the results we want.  But how do we strike the balance to achieve optimal benefits? Speakers for the evening gave plenty of food for thought on how to go about achieving success.  The examples given related directly to pharmaceutical and medical solutions, but much of what I garnered could quite happily be applied to wider fields of science and tech innovation and, I would say, general good business practice, too. So, I would like to share the following, in particular:

Collaboration is key to understanding reality.  Innovation of any kind will not happen if you don’t have a culture of dialogue, collaboration and reflection to make this happen.  Your technology may be cutting-edge and your staff highly-intelligent and skilled, but if they don’t check and apply their expertise against what key stakeholders and end-users need and work together with them, they are likely to  solve only a perceived rather than  a real problem.

Industries need a way of capturing the expected and the unexpectedeffects and side-effects.   There are numerous unintended positive consequences- almost ‘innovations by accident’- in what we do in our everyday scientific and technological work.  We need to keep a look out for them.  The University of Birmingham’s Prof. Jim Parle is currently working on spotting trends in beneficial drug reactions.  He noted that patients, as well as researchers and clinicians, should be encouraged to report good and bad side-effects of medication in order to capture other uses for the drugs or their ingredients.  After all, that’s how the better known use of Viagra was discovered!


The best innovations are often unlocked over time via, if you like, a codebreaking approach.  Accounts of innovative successes reported in the media can give the impression that scientists and technologists achieve  big breakthroughs in ‘Eureka moments’.  But the reality is not so instantaneous.  Farhat Khanim, of University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences,  spoke about her research in drug redeployment- experimenting on  different safe permutations of drugs in order to unlock medical solutions gradually.  This is an important approach within stratified medicine, where patients are treated individually-according to their unique health needs and backgrounds-  and not as a member of an homogenous group with one condition requiring identical treatments.


Weigh up the value of innovating  and producing innovation.  This balance is an important ingredient for success for Astra Zeneca.  Sarah Maxfield, Alliance Manager, explained: ‘The importance of trust and flexibility is (not to be underestimated)…  softer benefits might be more significant than predicted tangibles’.

Overall, innovators agree that pursuing innovation is a process wherein people are as important as their knowledge and planning and structure are important in enabling your team to capture chance.  Reflecting upon this, it was very appropriate that the presentations for the evening finished with an insight into the forthcoming Institute of Translational Medicine, which will be located in Birmingham.   Prof. Charlie Craddock, Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, noted that there will be a mixture of clinical and academic groups, pharmaceutical companies, SMEs, educators and health economists working on-site.  Significantly, the Institute will also engage with the large and diverse population of Birmingham and its surrounds for the answers to better health for today and tomorrow.  Encouraging collaboration and appreciating very different but equally crucial knowledge and expertise  sets are evidently very high on the ITM ‘s agenda.

It’s reassuring that, if we want to, we can all play a part in determining innovative health solutions whatever our background.  And its not just the health arena that’s opening up. Science Capital’s next offering on 17th October  brings us to the equally diverse playing field of the Digital World . Yes, some of this world is about digital technology and Smart Cities, but above all its about smart people.  No, not just technologists, but people who can think differently and people who want to make a difference.  I think it’s a safe bet to say that if you are reading this you are probably one of them.  So, I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

All the best


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