Europe's innovation gap: Don Rumsfeld's revenge?

A new EU report says Europe, though catching up, still lags U.S. in terms of innovation.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

Andy Grove wasn't in the mood to sugarcoat his words. So it was that Intel's then-CEO bluntly told Europe's elites that they were in danger of dooming the next generation to a second class future.

That was 1997. The venue was the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, where Grove was invited to share his views about the impact of technology on society. He didn't waste the moment: in a speech that bordered on turning into jeremiad, Grove warned that Europe was too slow to invest in computing infrastructure and that the continent's work force lacked high-tech skills.

EU innvoation versus the U.S. Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology

At the time, I thought Grove had a lot of chutzpah, but it turned out that his preaching wasn't so far off.

In the latest study of innovation on the other side of the pond, it turns out that Europe continues to lag behind the United States. The good news is that the EU has increased the number of people graduating with degrees (particularly in the fields of engineering and science) while also registering a "strong increase" in broadband and venture capital investments. (Keep in mind, however, that the annual study was finished prior last year's fourth quarter economic meltdown.)

Bottom line: "There has been a continued improvement in the EU's performance relative to the US and a recent improvement relative to Japan. Nevertheless, there remains a significant gap between the EU and these two other regions and there appears to be some slowing down in the catching up with the US in recent years."

Here's where gaps remain, according to the European Innovation Scoreboard, prepared by the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology:

•  International patenting

•  Public private linkages

•  Numbers of researchers

•  Business R&D expenditures

Of course, it's misleading to paint with too broad a brush. When it comes to innovation within the EU, the report found that the leading nations include Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The next tier, which the report dubs "innovation followers" include Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

In third place, the "moderate innovators" include Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, and Spain

The so-called catching up countries" at the bottom of the EU list include Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey. (Turkey is an associate member of the European Union.)