The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for December, 2011

Europe: remembering and renewing

Monday, December 19th, 2011

I was planning to write anyway this week about the European Union, following the European Summit at the end of the week before last.

For Britain, the EU remains key to our prosperity and security. Phrases like that can seem banal, the stuff of speeches and policy documents.

But the death this weekend of Vaclav Havel reminds us that for many tens of millions of Europeans that promise was denied them for half a century of Cold War Communism.

The bravery and vision of leaders, thinkers, writers and campaigners like him created the conditions for the reunification of Europe, surely one of the greatest positive changes in our lifetimes.

Britain wants a European Union that is faithful to the ideals of those who fought so hard for the changes that made its enlargement possible.  That means a Europe committed to further enlargement, and to robust and effective external action, in foreign, defence and security policy, in work on energy security and climate change and – not least – on human rights.

In all of this, Sweden is an absolutely key partner. We both agree on the need to ensure the Single Market works better, particularly for businesses. It is only by keeping our economies open, expanding our trade and making EU laws more business friendly that we can get the economic growth in Europe that we all want to see.

Britain is and will remain a great place to invest, with all the advantages of the Single Market, and with important national features on top of that:

–    one of the easiest places in the world to set up a business, according to the World Bank;

–    21 new enterprise zones around the country offering relief from business rates and taxes;

–    tax on business falling to 23% by 2014, one of the lowest rates in the G7; and

–    the great British heritage, culture and (most of the time) climate!

Like Sweden, we believe in a liberal, open, outward-facing Europe, which needs to be smart and competitive to thrive economically in the world we face today.

For that, we need to do everything we can to guard against a rigid, two-speed Europe. Countries large or small, inside or outside the single currency area, are equal partners in the EU.  Maintaining that balance and fairness will remain a priority for Britain.

Very best wishes to all readers of this blog for a peaceful and happy Christmas and all that you and your family would wish for in the New Year.

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Supporting science

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

I’m sorry for the long gap since my last blog. I’ve been in London and otherwise occupied. European events have been dominating my time, in particular this week’s European summit. I had my say about that in Tuesday’s DN.

The other big event of the week here is of course Nobel Week, reaching its climax with the Prize Awards Ceremony on Saturday, to which I’m hugely looking forward.

It’s not of course disconnected from the problems of the economy, which I wrote about in DN.

The UK government sees science and innovation as drivers of economic growth.  On 8 December the UK published its Innovation & Research Strategy for Growth.  Despite the difficult economic climate the UK’s knowledge base remains the most productive in the G8.  Not only have we maintained the annual science budget at £4.6bn but we have invested an additional £495 million in capital projects, and we are focusing on improving incentives for SMEs to innovate.

The capital funding includes funding for graphene – the star of last year’s Nobel Awards – the strongest and thinnest material in the world and a game changer for computer processing power and lightweight materials.

It also includes funding for high performance computing to support industries such as automotive and aerospace.  We are also launching a series of technology and innovation centres under the name Catapult – facilities which will commercialise innovation and research in high value manufacturing, cell therapy, and offshore renewable energy.

We have been following Swedish developments, particularly the Swedish Innovation Strategy and the upcoming Swedish Research Bill, with interest.

And we have been working productively together this year at the EU level to ensure that the Horizon 2020 proposals for the EU’s future approach to science and innovation reflect our shared priorities.

We, like Sweden, continue to encourage more joint working between universities, the healthcare service and the pharmaceutical industry.

On 5 December, David Cameron announced £180 million to bring new drugs and medical technologies to market through a “biomedical Catalyst Fund” open to universities and SMEs.

Sweden and the UK are both strong in Medtech and in the biology that underpins drug discovery and combating infectious diseases as well as many other areas. Both countries want to see faster and higher quality commercialisation of new life saving techniques to patients.

So, as we congratulate the Nobel winners this week, we can be confident in  Sweden and the UK when it comes to renewed focus on innovation and growth. But we need to be innovative in our approach to innovation and keep pushing those boundaries!

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