Make Europe stronger and smarter by investing in knowledge security, competitiveness and European values. This was the key message from Neth-ER's annual networking conference from 2023: ‘Smarter EU, Stronger World’. Neth-ER warmly welcomed audience and guests, to join the panel discussion and networking reception.

Report on Neth-ER's 2023 networking event including aftermovie

Watch our aftermovie via the link on the right.

A smart and safe Europe

On 29 November 2023, Neth-ER brought together representatives of the Dutch and European knowledge community in Brussels for its annual networking event. The event included contributions from the likes of Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, Henne Schuwer, President of Neth-ER, Michiel Scheffer, President of the EIC and Samira Rafaela, Member of the European Parliament (Renew).



Commissioner praises Netherlands as shining example

The event kicked off with a video message from Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth. She praised the Netherlands as a shining example of how Dutch ecosystems drive competitiveness and innovation in the EU. “Research, innovation (R&I) and education play a key role to achieve a smarter and stronger Europe. A smarter Europe means a Europe that is open, competitive, strong and safe”, emphasizes Ivanova. Strategic European R&I policy should foster cooperation with foreign partners, while safeguarding European security. This should be done through boosting investments in education, research, and innovation to strengthen research security against misuse of results, and foster international cooperation, including through Horizon Europe Association. This is vital to ensure open research and academic freedom as European values.



International alliances for security and values

Henne Schuwer, president of Neth-ER, made a plea for international cooperation for European security. With global competitors and conflicts on the rise, Europe ought to increase competitiveness, as a condition to be an international role model. Collaboration through Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe is crucial to achieve this, as these funding programs touch common goals such as a digitalisation and sustainability. Challenges for knowledge security at the national level need support through international cooperation. Schuwer also calls on education institutions to work together, as European values are under threat both from outside as well as inside the EU. Schuwer: “European education institutions act as a space to express common European values. If Europe bundles its powers together, a smarter EU will result in a stronger world.”


Market-oriented and inclusive knowledge innovation

Keynote speaker Michiel Scheffer, President of the European Innovation Council (EIC) reflected on the importance of market-oriented and inclusive innovation for Europe's knowledge security. When R&I policy is systematically optimized and implemented, innovative valuable research findings may be brought closer to the various markets and solving Europe’s societal challenges. Scheffer also drew attention to creating more inclusive innovation systems for excellent research, both in terms of geography as in gender. He pointed out that excellence is unequally distributed across Europe, which means there should be more participation from entities in widening countries. Additionally, Europe may also further knowledge innovation by investing into gender-inclusive research and innovation, aligning with European values. Scheffer highlighted that 20 percent of the EIC's funding supports female-led business projects, while the worldwide average of funded female-led business projects lies at only one percent. “Still, it’s not an end point though”, he said.


Cooperation within the knowledge community

The event continued with a fruitful panel discussion with Samira Rafaela, Member of the European Parliament (Renew), Joep Houterman, Chairman of the Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) / President Fontys, Michiel Scheffer, President of the EIC, Elisa Weehuizen, President of the National Student Union (LSVb) and Maria van Middelkoop, Secretary of the Youth Organisation Vocational Education (JOBmbo). Making Europe a true global competitor requires structural cooperation between researchers, innovators and educational institutions, states MEP Samira Rafaela. As discussions around European values become increasingly complex due to geopolitical changes and the rise of the extreme right in Europe, it is necessary to exchange best innovative practices. The MEP pleas for knowledge security by protecting the rights and safety of European researchers, as they are vital in supporting politicians and policymakers in decision-making processes and combatting misinformation. In light of the 2024 European Parliament elections, there is a large stage for the knowledge community to practice European values through information sharing with citizens and politicians.

Inclusive participation in EU politics

Elisa Weehuizen acknowledges the role of the knowledge community in the elections too and expressed the need to increase youth participation in European democracy. To protect European values, Europe's outreach to student communities can improve with the use of smart technologies. Information supply through Erasmus+, for example, may increase the understanding of the role of students in European policymaking. Weehuizen also sees a task for member states to stimulate political participation of students, to foster European values. Maria van Middelkoop pleas for inclusion as a core European value. To foster innovative cooperation between institutions and stakeholders, equal recognition and opportunities for all students, especially from vocational education & training (VET), are prerequisites. Next to inclusion, Van Middelkoop also asks for transparency about European decision-making towards young people.



No European values without competitiveness

However, European values cannot be defended at a global stage without European competitiveness. Joep Houterman discusses open cooperation as the key to increase European competitiveness. Houterman asks for openness from education institutions to form high-quality alliances with diverse stakeholders in innovation ecosystems. Hence, there should be more funding to strengthen inclusive partnerships. He sees a crucial position of Universities of Applied sciences (UAS) to impact large-scale change for Europe's societal challenges through innovative research. For innovation to create societal impact beyond institutions, it should become widely accepted and available as a part of daily life, Michiel Scheffer finds. This also means including all levels of education in the innovation process to make the innovation applicable.


Closing words from the director of Neth-ER

Neth-ER director Jurgen Rienks concluded that education, research and innovation are vital for a stronger and smarter world. Knowledge security and competitiveness can benefit greatly from strengthened cooperation. Making Europe smarter and stronger requires interconnectedness between policymakers, researchers, innovators and educators, with shared European values such as inclusivity at the baseline.

Mede geschreven door Dominique Selier.