Spain, at the tail end of investment in R&D

Countries like Greece and Poland already exceed Spain in investment related to GDP

The future of countries can be guessed at by looking at their investment in R&D&I, i.e. research, development and innovation. The greater the current investment, the greater the future possibilities for an economy that, if it wants to be competitive and dynamic, has to create added value. Yet a study by the Cotec Foundation based on data from the 2019 financial year shows that countries such as Greece or Poland, with a per capita income lower than that of Spain, have overtaken Spain in terms of investment in R&D in relation to GDP. The situation is particularly serious because the study also highlights that the difference with the European average has also increased and that there are countries such as Portugal that are making a determined commitment to innovation and have widened their advantage over Spain.

According to Cotec data, in 2019 investment in R&D in reached a record 15,572 million euros, 1.25% of GDP. Only one year earlier, in 2018, investment levels had returned to pre-crisis levels, which means that it has taken a decade to recover them. Cotec's analysis indicates that there are countries which have taken advantage of the crisis, such as Portugal, to make structural changes, while Spain, especially dependent on the construction and tourism sectors, has not even been able to achieve the levels of unemployment which existed in 2007.

The European Union has set a target of 3% of GDP for R&D as part of a long-term strategy to compete with the US and China. This means that Spain would have to more than double the amount of resources currently devoted to it, from 15 billion to almost 40 billion. The Spanish executive's plans are more modest and foresee reaching 2% during the next year, a figure that would be a real leap forward, since the current record of investment as a percentage of GDP is from 2010, when it reached 1.35%.

Experts are now hoping for the arrival, as so often in research projects, of European funds, which, since they are conditional on their being allocated to objectives such as digitalisation or the green economy, should give a definitive boost to investment in R&D. In any case, successive Spanish governments have never considered this investment a priority, unlike other poorer countries. Probably because the structures of the State absorb a great amount of resources that could be used more efficiently. But also because Spain has opted for an infrastructure policy, e.g. the high speed train, which has proved to be highly inefficient.

We hope that the arrival of funds and their co-management with the autonomous communities will enable Catalonia to consolidate its own R&D policy. The foundations of this policy were already laid by minister Andreu Mas-Colell with initiatives to attract researchers such as the Icrea programme, designed to bring us closer to leading European countries. Because if there is anywhere in the state where it has been proven that talent ends up having an impact on the progress of an entire society, it is in Catalonia.

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EDICIÓ PAPER 16/01/2021

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