The Slovenia Times

People and knowledge are the creators of development - Slovenian society needs to accept and support this



Q Slovenia's Smart Specialisation Strategy (S4) aims to improve competitiveness by increasing the proportion of knowledge and technologies in Slovenia's exports, with the share of high-tech intensive products to increase from 22.3% to the EU-15 average of 26.5% by 2023. What are the main industries in which Slovenia can achieve this and compete internationally?

I believe that S4 has brought freshness into the Slovene mindset and a new approach to thinking about how to be more competitive. The Smart Specialisation Strategy shows that several industries, science and research have enormous potential and are comparable and competitive globally. The task now, for the government, is to provide a supportive environment which will help these areas be even more competitive and for industry and society to use this environment in such a way so as to improve and increase the number of high-tech products, high value added services and new solutions with higher value added, which will also lead to higher employment. The preparation of the strategy was a learning process for Slovenia - how to accelerate the entrepreneurial spirit whether in science, research or business. Different players from the respective areas prepared, together, the ideas and topics for the priority areas of S4, which is something that has not been done enough in the past.

Q In comparison with other European countries, Slovenia has one of the largest tax burdens on labour, which is not-supportive for innovation and highly-skilled labour. Do you think this may obstruct the achievements of S4?

Many people argue that the tax burden on labour is a barrier to Slovenia's competitiveness. I am sure that lowering this burden would be appreciated by many employers however, every change to the tax system must be thoroughly analysed and prepared and also meet the criteria for fiscal policies that have been agreed and presented to the EU and the Slovene parliament. We will, in 2016, continue with a debate on tax policies with relevant stakeholders with the aim of achieving the best possible solutions for everyone involved, employers, employees, the government and also the unions.

Q As revealed in the strategy, in the area of smart cities and communities, there are 16 research initiatives identified with an estimated investment value of EUR 200m. What is the future vision here and when will it be implemented?

As already mentioned, the entrepreneurial discovery process is a key feature of the Smart Specialisation Strategy which states areas of specialisation, the so-called priority areas. Smart cities and communities are only one of the nine areas that were recognised in Slovenia as an area on which we should focus. At the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, we will prepare comprehensive measures that will help in the implementation of these and other similar initiatives. Everyone should have the same starting position and the best should also count on financial support. Of course, this support will be available only through a competitive process, including calls for proposals. The most important goal of our Ministry is to bring together ideas from research, education and industry in order to search for new knowledge and synergies, with the goal of creating a more open and competitive environment and a more intensive transfer of knowledge. This is also one of the key strategic goals of the Ministry in this mandate: creation and transfer of high value-added knowledge, based on high quality scientific research and education in cooperation with business.

Q Since July, Slovenia has been fully involved in the European Space Agency (ESA) which will give new impetus to Slovenian SMEs. In the previous five year period, when Slovenia was a participating country in ESA, there were 26 confirmed projects totalling EUR 5.2m. What can we expect for the future?

With membership of ESA, Slovene companies and research organisations will have additional possibilities for participating in the activities of the agency, which is the main reason the Slovene government is doing its best to be involved in ESA, despite some who may think that Slovenia is not big enough to deal with space science and technology. We are certain this is not the case! Furthermore, we believe this is not the only area where we should proceed with internationalisation of our science and give an additional boost to our economy. Therefore, we have renewed our negotiations with CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) where I hope we become a full member in 2016 depending, of course, on public finances and government priorities. Membership would not only be a great success for the research community and knowledge transfer but also a unique opportunity for Slovene industry to participate in CERN's procurement procedures and also for pupils, students, professors to get new knowledge and ideas.

Q In May, at the rectorate of the University of Ljubljana, 23 co-founders started the Slovenian Innovation Hub. What kind of knowledge and people does this project address?

The idea of the Slovenian Innovation Hub is to prepare concrete development projects for partners to form value chains and to cooperate in the preparation of long-term development programs. The hub addresses and gathers partners from research organisations, companies and institutions that, together, combine a critical mass of knowledge, skills and resources. The hub will be a catalyst for integration, defining common interests and an initiator for the creation of independent projects, a mediator in the search for financial resources and an overcomer of unnecessary administrative or legislative barriers. At the Ministry, we support such initiatives and see them as open, supporting environments for new innovation, both technological and social.

Q Slovenes are innovators by nature, based on the number of innovations in the world. However, when it comes to selling innovations, especially in the global market, we generally fail. Will the Slovenian Innovation Hub also deal with this challenge?

The hub should also address the challenge of penetrating the global market and dealing with, as you call it, "innovation selling". But it should not be the only one to deal with this challenge. The government can help and I believe it must be its imperative to prepare an innovative environment for stakeholders, but more than that it is necessary for everyone to deal with this important issue. All organisations, regardless of their involvement in the hub, whether it is a research institution, university or company, should have the innovation system embedded in the philosophy and mindset of their organisation. We cannot create and develop a knowledge society without innovation. Therefore, we are financially supporting also other, different projects through the education system. We need to support and develop talent, regardless of the area. People and knowledge are the creators of development. We need to accept and support this in Slovenian society.


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