They can be the leaders who can help the Green Deal to happen and who can get involved in the fight against climate change

The new European Innovation Agenda is due to be launched at the beginning of July


Reneta Nikolova

Mrs. Gabriel, we are in Brussels on the occasion of one, I would say, historic moment - the first festival of the New European Bauhaus (NEB). Tell us more.

The festival is held for the first time. It is organized around three main pillars - forum, fair, and festival. For me, it allows us to take stock because about a year and a half ago we started with an idea that needed to be filled with content. There was some criticism at first because not everything related to the historic Bauhaus is good. Yet, despite all the challenges, we have managed to create a community of people who share values and are willing to change things, and at the same time, they are aware that decisions must be considered related to local specifics and people's needs. This is the reason why the realization of the festival makes me very happy. It confirmed my feeling that we act accordingly, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The efforts you are making to implement the initiative are obvious. The second European New Bauhaus annual awards ceremony, which you opened, was also part of the festival. What is your opinion about the importance of all those projects, which have been awarded and which show the diversity and those values that unite Europe?

First of all, to me, the projects that were ranked are a symbol of the talents who stay behind their realization and who through them show their excellent skills. As an EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, I am convinced that there are people with impressive abilities in every corner of the European Union.  I also notice that there is a difference from the previous year as there are more distinguished Member States and many different projects. I enjoy the special attention that young people the age of 30 and below receive. By rewarding them, we show them that they can be the leaders who can help the Green Deal to happen and who can get involved in the fight against climate change. It is young people who can generate impressive ideas that will benefit the whole of Europe. The other important thing that is implied through this festival is that we must continue the tendency of development of the regions. On the one hand, it is good to talk about values as this is what unites us, but they are not enough to overcome people's fears. In many places in the European Union, people are wondering what lies ahead of them along with the "green" transition. They need accessibility and more information. They must be involved in projects that really benefit them, their community, and the area in which they live. For me, what lies ahead is for us to continue to catalyze the ideas that must not stop, but it is also good to take into account and give the floor to people who have not been heard so far. Many of them are extremely active and want their voice to be heard, but they are from more remote regions, from small settlements. It is they who need our support so that our whole society understands the ideas they have and the projects they implement. On the other hand, we must continue to emphasize creativity and technology. They form a distinctive symbiosis that allows us to have solutions to different situations.

I was impressed by the large number of young people at the festival. They responded with great enthusiasm at the announcement of each of the awards. Is it planned for the event to become a tradition and what lies ahead from now on?

I'm sure there will be a third edition. Both events that have taken place so far show great enthusiasm and a growing number of people willing to take part. For me, this is of paramount importance and I know that the initiative will continue. Let's not forget that when you give visibility to those ideas and distinguish achievements, you push them forward. However, that is not enough. Three things lie ahead and I want to address them. We will first open the call for participants from the field of education to see how the Bauhaus can be useful and how they can contribute with their knowledge and skills. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest ways to reach more people. I sincerely believe in the power of education when we talk about fears and changes in habits and behavior. To me, it plays a key role and has a huge impact, from the youngest child in kindergarten to the university student. The other very important thing is that we have to fill with content the so-called Laboratory of the New European Bauhaus. Since its inception, several projects have been launched in it, focusing in particular on the northern regions of Europe, especially on mountainous areas. It will be very important for me that those projects are implemented and that they cover all those who could not be selected in this first group. We will certainly have to talk about criteria here and get to a point where we can show how things happen because, otherwise, we would not be able to motivate people in the long term, those who work so hard to integrate the three Bauhaus principles – aesthetically, sustainably, and inclusively. If then they do not have a trademark that would allow this project to attract investors, be different from other projects, and that will ease its daily activities, then they would lose interest. This is one of the things we need to keep working on. Finally, we need to talk about ways of financing. It's great that things are happening, but in the beginning, we started with a relatively small budget. EUR 85 million for the period 2021-2022 are funds that cannot allow us to reach the ambitious goals of the New European Bauhaus - from the connection with nature to new building materials and the role of education and culture. The task for me will be the new work program "Horizon Europe" within the period 2023 – 2024. Step by step we should make sure that there will be a critical mass of investments targeted at the "New European Bauhaus", which at some point may become a new European program.

What are the other important topics on your agenda as a Commissioner? I know you are preparing a new European Innovation Agenda. Can you tell us a little more about it? At what stage is its implementation and when can we expect it to start?

I am extremely happy and I can already announce that in the first week of July we will present the new European Innovation Program, which we have been working on very intensively for over a year. This time we decided to change the approach, because not only does the latest Innovation Strategy from 2011 need to be updated, but it also should be transformed into an Action phase. We want to make it a strategy that gives horizons. That's why my team and I decided to address business and more specifically startups. They are the people who face difficulties called innovations in different regions of Europe, and exactly they can say what actions they would like to see at the European level. As I have already said, there are many talents in Europe today who have created startups, and they are eager to develop in Europe and create jobs. They want to contribute to the growth of the European economy. The truth is that for the first time in 2021 the numbers have given us extra weight and strength. Over the past year, the investments in European startups have tripled to 100 billion euros. Within just one year, the profile of the so-called “unicorn” companies doubled - from 44 to 89. This shows that even nowadays there are many well-functioning local ecosystems in Europe. The problem is that they are not interconnected. At the moment, it is much easier for such companies to find an investor overseas, and that is why we needed to take action. We will focus on several aspects that will help their future development. We need to help them get through the so-called valley of death while they are in the growth phase and need to become champions. That is why our goal is to provide funding opportunities. This topic is certainly crucial. Currently, one of the challenges is to attract private investors. Public resources will not be enough. The second topic that is very important to me and I like to talk about it is talents, talents, talents. I don't like the term "brain drain". I want to talk about the mobility of talents. Europe must first invest in its capable young people because that is the way to make it an attractive destination. That is why I will say exclusively to your media that together with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology we will propose a new Deep Tech Talents initiative. It will provide an opportunity for 1 million European talents to study over the next 3 years. We want Europe to be a leader in this new Deep Tech wave of innovation. Even now Europe is a leader in science. We have very strong industrial sectors, including the construction one. If the new wave of innovation is accompanied by strong investment, then Europe has its chance to lead that new wave of innovation, because we all know what happened to us with the digital wave. We also need to talk about the legislative framework and more flexibility. Another very important thing is the interconnection of local innovation ecosystems. Today, Europe is fragmented and needs to be bridged more than ever. The political agreement reached by the European Parliament and the EU Member States regarding the European Regional Development Fund is one of the initiatives that will help to tackle that case. You know that 3 weeks ago we launched the Regional Innovation Partnership. We also have a Bulgarian region - Gabrovo, which participates in the initiative. The idea is to test how we work with 74 regions within 1 year and then address the rest 240 regions in the country.

I can't help but ask you, at what stage is the realization of the European Digital Heritage Cloud?

It is part of the Horizon Europe program. The idea was born about two years ago. At that time we found a solution on how to preserve cultural content within the digital age. For me, this was a question to be answered as soon as possible. The truth is that in recent years it has become increasingly common for large companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook to start buying exactly the cultural content rights. I believe that it is crucial to preserve regional museums and their contents because this is the symbol of our identity. This is something we must pass on to future generations. It is important to preserve our history and give access to it to more people. I am glad that after very intensive work within the Horizon Europe program, in which for the first time we have a Culture cluster with a budget of EUR 2.28 billion, we have decided to start work on the creation of this cloud of cultural heritage. It must be the first step towards ensuring that Europe will invest more in the cultural and creative sectors, so there must be targeted investment. Today, everything related to digitalization takes an awful lot of resources - from content digitalization to the interoperability of systems, to new software, not to mention training. That's why for me this cloud is the first step - with even more investment in the field we should show that not only are we talking that culture is part of our DNA, but that it is important for us to remain a society with values, which still feels that emotion of human-to-human communication that we saw during the pandemic, and that cannot be replaced. That is why I am glad that we are continuing our focused efforts in this direction.

The European Education and Innovation Forum is due to take place at the end of June. This is a very important topic for the construction sector, especially the link between education, business, and science. Can you tell us more about the event?

It was launched in January, when, for the first time in EU history, science and innovation were included in the European Strategy for Universities aimed at higher education. The truth is that these two worlds do not talk to each other spontaneously, but they can be so mutually useful and have excellent cooperation. In this way, they can allow both sectors to move forward at a new pace and with a different quality. Even now there are universities in Europe where there are such incubators. I visited some of them in Copenhagen and Munich. However, they do not communicate with each other, do not cooperate and we cannot know who does what, and where we need not to reinvent the hot water, because someone already has the data and made the prototype. It is time to move forward with the next targeted funding. That is why my goal is to create a European network of universities that make it clear that they will work together and will allow for a critical mass of higher education institutions to be created, those that see innovation as another means of creating an ecosystem. Universities can be a wonderful place for students to experiment from the very first year and try to create their own startups. Someone can fail at first, but this is how they will learn and gain experience. That way, he will understand that this is not as fatal as is often thought in Europe. Gradually, business and education need to work together to be useful to each other. This is very important to me, especially since there will certainly be other initiatives ahead. There is no way for the innovation program to work for those who are talented if universities do not have a leading role. It is not possible to talk about a regional innovation ecosystem if the universities in the regions are not used as wealth to make this happen faster. The connection between education, science, and innovation is a very big challenge for me. We say that we want them to go hand in hand and that they are the triangle of knowledge, but we still do not have a critical mass of initiatives to show such a result so that it convinces as many other people as possible. This is the only way to move forward.

Under your patronage, the Bulgarian Construction Chamber and the Stroitel Newspaper have held an extremely successful conference on the topic: "Construction as an industry of the future - innovation and digitalization." All participants assessed the forum as very important. What is your opinion regarding the possibility of holding a joint event to become a good tradition?

I welcome the idea because there is a need for such events. The construction industry is the one that can show through such events how the quality of work is improving. The forum was really useful and allowed a more in-depth analysis, which can certainly lead to workable solutions. I can only welcome the idea and I will certainly participate again. Every time it is a real pleasure to talk to people whose positions are formed as a result of experience or getting to know all those who take part in the process and in the ecosystem and appreciate the future with courage and audacity. If one does not possess it, especially in the field of construction, he would never achieve what has been done so far. And that's a lot.