Ratas: Research funding not to reach 1 percent GDP in next three years

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and President Kersti Kaljulaid, June 2019.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and President Kersti Kaljulaid, June 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) doesn't see how the state budget strategy could accommodate such an increase in research and development spending within the next three years. Ratas said that the agreement signed last year to peg research spending to 1 percent of Estonia's gross domestic product is "alive," and that the government's eventual aim hasn't changed.

The agreement, signed in late 2018 by representatives of the state as well as Estonia's universities and business associations, calls on the Riigikogu to include this aim in the coming budgets. The assumption last year was that the 2019 budget strategy would already be changed accordingly.

At the time the agreement was signed, a potential change of government following the March 3 general election wasn't seen as a problem, as the chairwomen and chairmen of most of Estonia's political parties signed it — except for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), whom at that point nobody expected to get anywhere close to executive power.

Still, at the time the agreement was signed, one of EKRE's complaints was that it wasn't ambitious enough, which is why academician and University of Tartu professor, Lauri Mälksoo, considers also Estonia's political far right to be morally bound to the promise to increase research and development (R&D) funding.

Mälksoo said at a joint press conference with Ratas and President Kersti Kaljulaid on Thursday that in any case, Estonia's researchers will still hold the state to its promise. He stressed that researchers aren't after a specific sum, but that they want the state to increase R&D spending on the whole.

Both the prime minister and the president pointed to the economic outlooks expected to be published in the fall. After the banks and the Ministry of Finance asses Estonia's economic situation, the state and future possibilities of research funding would become clearer, both Ratas and Kaljulaid said.

Leaders of Estonia's political parties as well as research institutions and business associations signed the so-called research agreement in Tallinn in December last year. The agreement fixes public sector investment in R&D to at least 1 percent of Estonia's GDP within the next three years, an aim that the coalition's state budget strategy talks this spring proved to have been too ambitious.

Lack of private sector investment remains serious issue

At the time the agreement was signed, the president of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Tarmo Soomere, pointed out (link in Estonian) that what is actually needed is for the private sector to increase its contribution to R&D.

Of all the money invested into research, two thirds would actually have to come out of the private sector. "Estonia's problem is that we have a weak private sector that isn't able to invest," Soomere pointed out.

He added that the actual aim has to be 3 percent of GDP, with 2 percent funded by the private sector. "Those 2 percent are the real pain point," he said.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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