Poland invests in science

Research at the heart of the country's biggest ever investment plan

Feb 9, 2005
Jane Burgermeister(janeburgermeister@yahoo.co.uk)

At a conference in Warsaw last week, EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik warned that EU member states needed to do much more to support science.

Speaking on future EU research policy and opportunities, Potocnik said that European member states had worked hard to reach the goal of spending 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) on research, but he added that "action has not been sufficient yet for research investment to catch up more than marginally." Overall research and development (R&D) investment is now nearly 2% of GDP, up from 1.9% in 2002, he said—still a far cry from spending in the United States and Japan.

In Poland, the level of overall R&D investment in 2003 was 0.56% of GDP, Potocnik said. But his message did not fall on deaf ears. On January 11, the Polish government adopted an ambitious national investment plan that made science and the development of a knowledge economy a key priority.

Poland, which joined the European Union in May 2004, plans to invest €142 billion (USD $181 billion) between 2007 and 2013 to develop and modernize the country's economy and infrastructure—and much of this money will go to science, according to Polish Minister of Science Michal Kleiber, who attended the conference.

Of the total, €73.6 billion (USD $93.8 billion) is to come from EU structural and cohesion funds, while €50 billion (USD $63.7 billion) will come from the Polish government, and €28 billion (USD $35.7 billion) from the private sector.

Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka said that science was essential to strengthening Poland`s future economic growth and competitiveness.

"We propose that the Polish economy be an economy open to knowledge, that spending on scientific research and development increase faster than economic growth, and that people have guaranteed conditions for raising their knowledge and qualifications," Belka said, speaking on national television.

Elzbitha Wolmin, director of the Department of Structural Funds at the Ministry of Science and Information Technology, said that Poland would draw on the European Union's structural funds to modernize the country's neglected research infrastructure, for example, by giving grants to investors interested in creating R&D laboratories for companies.

"Poland could be a very modern country, a very competitive country, in the future, and the key to this is science," Wolmin told The Scientist. "There has been too little money up to now for science, but I am confident that things are now on a good way."

Wolmin noted that the Polish government had passed a law in October pledging to make lifting spending on science to the target of 3% of the GDP a priority. "The whole Parliament backed this law. There is a real political will to see more money being spent on science, a real understanding that science and knowledge are vital for Poland's future prosperity," she said.

Andrzej Stolarczyk of Poland's Scientific Research Committee, European Integration Department, said, however, that private sector investment in science remained low. "We will not reach 3% set as a target by the Lisbon Agenda, but our goal is 1.5% by 2006," he said.

Stolarczyk also noted that the success rate of Polish scientists applying for money under the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme had fallen in comparison with the preceding Fifth Framework Programme. "New instruments were introduced that do not favor small countries, and we hope our concerns will be addressed in the next framework program because we can use all the money we can get," he said.

To underline its commitment to integrating the Polish scientific and business community into the European Research Area, Janez Potocnik unveiled a new Polish language arm of the Cordis news service—the European Commission's research news agency—at the Warsaw conference on February 4.

Virginia Mercouri from Cordis told The Scientist that making the service available in Polish would help the Polish scientific community to participate in the European Union research programs. "Cordis is a key participation tool for scientists to get money from Europe also for scientists to communicate and promote their achievements. The daily news in Polish will especially help small companies that cannot manage the information," she said.