Malta lags behind in R&D as only Romania fares worse in EU scoreboard

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In 2020, the Member States of the EU spent around €311 billion on research & development (R&D). This is a decrease of €1 billion compared with 2019 (€312 billion). The R&D intensity, i.e. R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP, stood at 2.3% in 2020, compared with 2.2% in 2019. However, this small increase is due to a decrease in GDP as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten years earlier (2010), R&D intensity was 2.0%.

R&D is a major driver of innovation, and R&D expenditure and intensity are two of the key indicators used to monitor resources devoted to science and technology worldwide.

The business enterprise sector continues to be the main sector in which R&D expenditure was spent, accounting for 66% of total R&D disbursed in 2020, followed by the higher education sector (22%), the government sector (12%) and the private non-profit sector (1%; data might not add up to 100% due to rounding).

In 2020, the highest R&D intensity was recorded in Belgium and Sweden (3.5% of GDP), followed by Austria (3.2%) and Germany (3.1%). At the opposite end of the scale, six Member States recorded a R&D intensity below 1% of GDP: Romania (0.5%), Malta and Latvia (both 0.7%), Cyprus, Bulgaria and Slovakia (all 0.9%).

The European Parliament has frequently called for an intensification of R&D efforts, indicating a minimum of 1.25% of GDP by 2030, to help the EU achieve targets set by the European Commission’s plan to establish a single market for research in the European Research Area. “We are concerned that improving the quality of research and innovation system is slowing down and shows uneven progress across the Union,” Cristian Bușoi, the chair of the Parliament’s industry and research committee, ITRE said.

Maltese MEP Josianne Cutajar also sits on the ITRE committee, and addressing one of this Summer’s plenary session, she insisted that “research in Europe has a lot of potential we still need to unleash. The European Research Area is the ambition to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across the EU. It helps countries be more effective together, by strongly aligning their research policies and programmes.

“Working to improve the innovation performance of Member States is also a formidable opportunity for the most peripheral areas, like European islands, to become the testbed for innovative solutions to the most urgent societal challenges,” Cutajar said.

Earlier this Summer, MEPs have also asked the Commission and member states to come up with better plans for reducing the precariousness of research careers and increase the quality of science produced. “We must continue to invest in science and innovation and pay particular attention to fundamental research, both at the commission level and at the member state level,” said Portuguese MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho.

Over the last ten years, R&D intensity rose in 24 Member States, with the highest increase recorded in Belgium (+1.5 percentage points; from 2.0% of GDP in 2010 to 3.5% in 2020), Greece (+0.9 pp; from 0.6% to 1.5%), Poland and Czechia (both +0.7 pp; from 0.7% to 1.4% and from 1.3% to 2.0%, respectively).

In contrast, R&D intensity decreased in three Member States; Finland (-0.8 pp; from 3.7% to 2.9%), Ireland and Luxembourg (both -0.4 pp; from 1.6% to 1.2% and from 1.5% to 1.1%, respectively).

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