Prime Minister Jüri Ratas replied to the interpellation concerning the research and development spending (No. 385), submitted by members of the Riigikogu Anne Sulling, Kristen Michal, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Igor Gräzin, Laine Randjärv, Remo Holsmer, Hanno Pevkur, Aivar Sõerd, Maris Lauri, Urve Tiidus, Heidy Purga, Eerik-Niiles Kross, Meelis Mälberg and Terje Trei on 18 October.
The interpellators asked the Prime Minister why the Government did not comply with the principles of the Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2014–2020, approved by the Riigikogu, and had abandoned the raising of the state funding of research and development to one per cent of GDP by 2020.
Ratas said that definitely no decision to abandon the target had been made. It was a very ambitious target. He explained that several European Union member states had set a similar target and it had to be admitted that in many member states it had proved to be a target not easily met.
“According the data of 2015, Estonia’s indicator exceeded the European Union average. While Estonia’s average indicator was 0.78 per cent, the European Union average was 0.74 per cent of GDP,” Ratas said. At the same time, he noted that Estonia’s indicator of 2016 had indeed fallen to 0.61 per cent of GDP, but that had to a large extent been due to the launch of the new European Union structural funds period at that time, in 2016. “Investments into research and development will have to grow because it is an extremely important sector in terms of the development of our economy,” Ratas stressed.
The Prime Minister noted that, according to a recommendation of the Research and Development Council, which advised the Government, under economic growth conditions, the state funding of research and development as a proportion of GDP had to remain at the level of 2017 as a minimum until 2021. This means a growth in the research and development spending at the same pace as the gross national product. “I wish to emphasise here once more that this is not a decision of the Government of the Republic but this is a recommendation of the Research and Development Council,” Ratas explained. He underlined that the idea of the Research and Development Council was to set a minimum level without at the same time abandoning those more ambitious targets.
“I am glad that state investments into research and development will increase by 19.5 million euro compared to this year in next year’s state budget. Based on the projections for the state budget and economic growth, private sector research and development spending will grow from 0.78 per cent of GDP in 2017 to 0.81 per cent in 2018,” Ratas said.
The Prime Minister noted that one direct target of the Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy was the improvement of the position on the European Union Innovation Union Scoreboard. “It sets out the aim to achieve the 10th place by 2020. At the moment, as you well know, we are on the 15th place. In light of this scoreboard, Estonia’s lag is greater particularly in the innovation activities of enterprises which does not necessarily presume large research and development spending by the state,” Ratas explained. In his opinion, compared to innovation leaders, there is a clear lag in Estonia’s private sector research and development spending level which is connected with the scant innovation activities, as already mentioned, and the general low level of knowledge-intensiveness of the Estonian economy. “In the business sector, relatively few businesses engage in research and development, actually, whose relevant spendings totalled less than 140 million euro in 2016; more specifically, 139.2 million euro,” Ratas noted. At the same time he is convinced that private sector research and innovation activity can definitely be pushed and encouraged with state intervention.
The Prime Minister also replied to the interpellation concerning the digital policy of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union being ignorant regarding Internet freedom (No. 383) and the interpellation concerning the corruption in local governments and elsewhere (No. 387).
The Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab replied to the interpellation concerning the Ida-Virumaa programme (No. 378).
The Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Urve Palo replied to the interpellation concerning making ultra-high-speed Internet available to rural people (No. 388).
The Minister of the Environment Siim Kiisler replied to the interpellation concerning hunting tourism and the hunting of game birds in Estonia (No. 392).
The sitting ended at 7.55 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
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