This week Pablo Casado, candidate of the PP to the presidency of the Government, promised to allocate 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research development and innovation (R + D + i) if he accesses La Moncloa in order to convert to Spain in the "California of Europe". PSOE, Citizens We can also have committed -Even in the term of the next legislature- to this effort so that Spain reaches the EU average in this field.
The objective is an old acquaintance of the governments of Spain in the last decade. The 2008-2011 state research plan prepared by the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero set a target of 2% for 2010, but that year the observed figure was 1.35%. The 2013-2016 plan, already with Mariano Rajoy in La Moncloa, contemplated 1.48% for 2016, but in that year the figure was 1.19%. The current 2017-2020 plan is planned to reach 2% in 2020, but in 2017, the latest data available, Spain is even farther from Europe than a decade ago, at 1.20%.
"It's an open secret," says Aleix Pons, an R + D + i expert from the Cotec foundation for innovation. "In the absence of knowing the data for 2018 and 2019 it is not very risky to say that it will be impossible to reach the goal of 2% of GDP in 2020," he says.
Reaching Europe in this field during this term, in 2023, poses another titanic challenge. "To reach 2% in 2023, it would be necessary to increase investment in R & D of all economic agents by no less than 15,576 million euros, that is, to double the current investment in R & D," says Pons.
Judging by what happened in other countries around us, that goal is not realistic. For example, the Czech Republic went from 1.17%, in 2005 to 1.97% in 2014, after nine years of continued growth. Slovenia jumped from 1.3% to 2%, also in a decade. China, which in 2001 was in a volume of investment in science with respect to GDP similar to that of Spain, has exceeded the EU in this field, but it took 12 years to move from the level in which Spain was to reach the European average. In fact, your investment has already surpassed the EU. The European Union itself took 20 years to increase its investment in R & D by five tenths of a point, to 2%.
"To say that such a rapid growth of the total investment in R & D would be bad is equivalent to warning of the dangers of obesity to a malnourished child." Being true, it is not appropriate, "he says. Jorge Barrero, general director of the Cotec foundation for innovation. "We suggest more specific and focused commitments such as, for example, the sustained increase in the public R & D budget, chapters one to seven of the budgets, in a figure that, at least, double the increase in GDP," he adds.
Something similar happens with the promises of the parties to bring back to Spain thousands of scientists -10,000 PSOE or 20,000 Podemos-. "You have to be very careful because science does not know about shortcuts," he explains. Nazario Martín, which represents 40,000 Spanish scientists as president of scientific societies. "If you bring back scientists you also need to invest in new laboratories and contracts for other personnel. That is why what we have been demanding from Cosce to governments is a 6% increase in public investment in research for a decade. At the end of those 10 years this would lead us to invest the same as in 2009, before the crisis. Any more ambitious goal is unreal, "he stresses.
All the parties have also promised a State pact for science that facilitates an increase in investment beyond the horizon of a legislature. Martín is skeptical. "It is very difficult for the governments in office to keep these commitments, even if the first year they increase the investment, but then it is impossible for them to maintain them, although other countries have been able to do so."
The idea of turning Spain into the California of Europe managed by Casado is also old, since already in 2006 it was managed by Carlos Martínez-Alonso as president of the CSIC during the Government of the Socialist Rodríguez Zapatero. The comparison is really daring, since California invested more than 3% of its GDP in research and development in 1991 and is currently in an unreachable 4.3%.