RIO Country Report France 2014

The RIO Country Reports, co-authored by JRC policy analysts and independent experts, give an update on the performance of the national research and innovation systems, and examine policies to address key R&I challenges, assessing their effectiveness. They serve as a tool to inform EU and national policy-makers, and support policy learning in Member States (MS).

Select another country:

The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the French national research and innovation system and related policies in the perspective of EU strategy and goals.

The report highlights recent national policy and system developments occurring and assesses the match between national policy priorities and the structural challenges of the research and innovation system. It addresses among others:

  • The progress of France towards achieving the Innovation Union, focusing on areas where action is needed.
  • Progress in responding to the ERA actions, particularly in light of the ERA progress report findings published in September 2014.
  • Country specific R&D and innovation recommendations as indicated in COM(2014) 400 final '2014 European Semester: Country specific recommendations, Building Growth' adopted by the Commission on 2 June 2014 and endorsed by the Council on 27 June 2014.
  • Progress in tackling research and innovation system challenges beyond those outlined above.
  • Areas highlighted by the Commission's Communication on 'Research and innovation as sources of renewed growth' (COM(2014) 339 final) and its accompanying Staff Working Document 'State of the Innovation Union, taking stock 2010-2014' (SWD(2014 181 final).

The RIO Country Report 2014 builds on the experience of the ERAWATCH project. The ERAWATCH Country Reports from previous years are also available for download on this page. 

Report year
Official publication date
Geo coverage
Document type
EU Report or Publication

Country Report file

RIO Country Report 2014_France.pdf
(1.7 MB - PDF)
National economic and political context

The most significant changes of the research and innovation system are intertwined with the evolution of the legal policy context. The new law on higher education and research of the 22nd July 2013 amplifies the changes started by the former government and provides a new momentum for other systemic and strategic issues. The policy mix aims at recovering competitiveness through research and innovation. The law of July 2013 is only a part of a lqrger set of measures that encompass the Investments for the Future Plan (1, 2 and 3), the Tax Credit for Employment and Competitiveness (CICE), the creation of a national public investment bank (including an innovation branch, bpifrance), the shift of the competitiveness clusters policy towards new products and services and plans for industrial renewal.

ERA priority 2: Optimal transnational co-operation and competition

In order to implement joint research agendas on major challenges, France actively takes part in all  the 10 Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs) launched since 2008. Its representatives are Chair of the Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), Chair of the JPI Water, and Vice-Chair of the JPI Climate as well as historical coordinators of the JP Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE). French participants are partners in all the initiatives, including in Living longer and better (MYBL).

From its creation in 2006, the National Research Agency has funded 1,040 transnational projects, totalling €300m. In 2013 51 calls for projects were launched, 19 of which were transnational (37%). This encompassed 1,431 transnational proposals with an average success rate of 13% and 186 funded projects.

National R&I strategies and policies

The law of 22nd July 2013 deals mainly with public research system changes. It sets forth the implementation of a National Research Strategy, a short version of which was published in March 2015. The latter contains orientations according to which research performers alter their research priorities to better meet societal challenges in the context of the European research policy framework. It also lays down a multi-annual budget to reach defined objectives and it specifies research orientations of the 10 pre-defined priorities (the 10 societal challenges that are similar to those of Horizon 2020). They should be taken on board by the National Research Agency and the multiannual programming with HEIs and PROs.

In addition to the changes related to structures and institutions, the new government strengthened the research and innovation policy implemented by the former government with the influential Commissariat-General on Investments and a preserved R&D tax credits architecture.

National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014

In NRPs 2013 and 2014, three main challenges are addressed: (i) clarifications of the French research and innovation system through initiatives aiming at gathering forces (university groupings, including public-private excellence partnering; synergetic multi-scale and multi-sector funding; very large infrastructures articulation);(ii) knowledge and technology transfer to society of academic research outputs shall be strengthened, through initiatives boosting public-private clustering logics; (ii) preserving the attractiveness of the French R&I system, notably through the so-called ‘ring-fencing’ of the R&D tax credit in its current form, and the strengthening of the competitiveness cluster policy, (as of 2013, the poles are ‘product-oriented’). Even though France has not reached the 3% target yet, the implemented package has led to steady improvements, the GERD/GDP ratio reached 2.23% in 2013 from 2.08% in 2007.

ERA priority 3: An open labour market for researchers


France is an open country for young researchers: more than 40% of the doctoral students are citizens from another country. In 2012 foreign researchers accounted for about 10% and 15% of the public research institutions workforce. The rate is even higher among new recruits (15%-30%) so that openness will continue increasing in the following years.

Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment of researchers:

In France, due to legal provisions, researchers are public servants, working according to a tenure contract within the public sector. Little is based upon individual merit and career advancement results mainly from seniority. On the other hand, openness and transparency prevail when it comes to recruitment. Researchers from outside the EU can benefit from “scientific visas” and “residence permits for scientists”. These specific procedures are simplified to facilitate scientists’ access to researchers’ positions within the French research system.

Access to and portability of grants:

As part of the ANR 2014 action plan, a new mobility scheme is being implemented. Labelled “Visiting top scholars”, the ANR wishes to attract top researchers from abroad, providing them with excellent hosting conditions. On the other hand, as far as ANR fellowships are concerned, portability is not an option: the agency should support researchers to carry out research in France, and not elsewhere. Researchers living in another EU country may answer an ANR call for proposal but the selected project must lead in France. ANR fellowships are open to non-residents, as it is the case for all French research organisations.


France is active through the French EURAXESS Service Centres (Euraxess France Network). The 30 centres provide foreign researchers with hospitality and personalised assistance (daily life, education of children, housing search, learning French, and all aspects of cultural integration).  In 2010, the EURAXESS France network assisted over 40,000 scientists from 130 countries. Researchers and teaching positions proposed by French universities are published on a specific national website and automatically transmitted to EURAXESS Jobs portal since 2010. Public and private research organisations also publish on EURAXESS jobs portal: CNRS, CEA, INRA, IFREMER, INRIA, IFP Energies nouvelles, etc.

Doctoral training:

There are about 300 doctoral schools responsible for the 62,000 doctoral students in France in 2013/2014. They develop close links with all potential recruiters of PhDs, including companies. Universities are autonomous in developing doctoral training as long as they comply with the law.  CIFRE (Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche) is a national-level scheme which addresses directly the innovative doctoral training principle. CIFRE aims at contributing to the competitiveness and innovation of French businesses. It encourages exchanges between public research laboratories and socio-economic environments and contributes to helping doctors find employment in companies of all sizes. Over the years, the CIFRE scheme has succeeded in bringing together over 6,000 companies and 4,000 academic research laboratories, involving 12,000 PhDs.

HR strategy for researchers (HRS4R) incorporating the Charter and Code:

The implementation of the HR strategy for researchers by French public research institutions and universities is coordinated by the Ministry for Primary, Secondary and Higher Education and Research (MENESR), with partners such as the CPU and the AMUE. Most research organisations have adopted and incorporated the principles of Charter and Code in their HR policies; the universities are in the process of doing so. To date, only one public research organisation (INRA) and one university (Montpellier, as of March 2015) obtained the label. Others are enrolled in the process.

Education and training systems:

The promotion of excellence in education has been a major line of action over the last four years, notably through the Investments for the Future Programme. For example, as of 2011, the Excellence initiatives (Idex) contributed to the development of eight world-class multi-disciplinary centres of excellence in higher education and research (for an investment of for an amount of about €7b over ten years).

Current efforts encompass developments to further simplify the education landscape (e.g. reduction of the number of Masters’ denominations) and to implement innovative methods including MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).

Policy developments related to Council Country Specific Recommendations

The Council Country Specific Recommendations that pertain to the R&I system ask for an overall improvement of non-price competitiveness (cost-competitiveness is not excluded though). This relates to the quality of the business environment or to the framework conditions for innovation. Many measures have been taken within this progress area in 2013. Since most of them are either permanent or designed to last for at least 10 years, they will continue to trigger positive changes beyond 2014. Many result from the implementation of the National Pact for Growth, Competitiveness and Employment (November 2012), e.g., the Tax Credit for Employment and Competitiveness (CICE), where innovation expenses are supposed to be the core of the eligible scope (it should represent up to €20b in 2015), the creation of a national public investment bank, bpifrance, the shift of the competitiveness clusters policy, to factories of future products and services (9 January 2013), the R&D tax credit (CIR), which translates into a global tax relief up to €5.3b for companies investing in R&D, and the CIFRE (Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche). The latter two provide complementary fiscal benefits that increase the attractiveness of PhDs in France as compared with other large economic regions.

ERA priority 5: Optimal circulation and access to scientific knowledge

e-Infrastructures and researchers electronic identity:

The Ministry for Primary, Secondary and Higher Education and Research launched “France Université Numérique” (FUN), a Massive Open Online Courses platform. Since October 2013 the HEIs wishing to provide their students with training in French and open online educational resources can benefit from FUN. Actions are being implemented (from ministry level to universities, from PRO level to public librarians and national schools) to establish and disseminate a clear policy on electronic identity among researchers.

Open Access to publications and data:

As a consequence of the statement of the Minister of Research and Higher Education at the fifth Days of Open Access - “Scientific information is a public good that should be available for all” - the French Government intends to develop green and gold access in a balanced and complementary way, while assisting the users that prefer gold access during the negotiation of licences with publishers. A hybrid system between green and gold accesses is also promoted, so that authors and readers can access scientific publication for free.

Framework conditions

On several aspects, the French intellectual property framework conditions are both stable and improving. They are conducive to business investment in research and innovation. Many of the changes, which have taken place over the past five years and and still on-going favour science-based entrepreneurship, the development of knowledge markets, knowledge transfer and open innovation. Major parts of the changes are implemented through funding allocated via the Investment for the Future Plans or bpifrance, the public investment bank to support businesses’ investment in innovative projects.

Science-based entrepreneurship

The key purpose of the creation of SATTs (Sociétés d’Accéleration du Transfert de Technologies) and IRTs (Instituts de Recherche Technologique) and their thematic variant “Instituts pour la Transition Energétique” is to improve the use of research outputs from public research performers: primarily university research labs together with enterprises. France has currently 14 SATTs, 8 IRTs and 12 ITEs.

Funding trends

Funding flows:

In 2013 France spent 2.23% of GDP on R&D (provisional). Between 2009 and 2012 private R&D spending has increased (1.23% of GDP in 2012) whereas public R&D expenditures have continuously decreased (GBAORD at 0.71% of GDP in 2012). Regional support to R&D varies strongly and is concentrated in a small number of regions. Overall, as a result of the governance structure, in 2012 French regions devoted approximately €930m to research and technology transfer (approximately 6% of public support to R&D). France performs well in the FPs, the ratio of its share of Horizon 2020 funding to the French share of EU GERD is above that of Germany (0.68 vs 0.59).

Project vs. institutional allocation of public funding:

Competitive funding of public research is steadily increasing, from 7.4% in 2009 to about 11% in 2012. Compared to other OECD countries, France seems to be a very modest user of competitive funding (which is above 50% in Ireland or Belgium). However, in France project based competitive funding covers project activities and does not cover salaries of permanent staff. Thus, the influence of project funding on public research activities may in practice correspond to twice the percentage indicated above (i.e. 22%). Since tenure post is the public researchers’ normal status, competitive funding is seen as an increasing complexity: too much time spent in writing research proposals just to be able to do research, which is often carried out by young researchers on temporary positions. For some PROs, the search for project funding (“external fresh money”) is compulsory since the yearly research budget depends on it, so it is almost a matter of survival. On the whole, the influence of project based funding is bigger than the shares imply. Project funding is a key driver of research activities despite its modest apparent value.

R&I funding:

Financial flows are characterised by three main features. Research is mainly supported via MIRES (the general budget of the Research and Higher Education Inter-ministerial Mission). It is foreseen to amount to about €26b in 2015. The Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research (MENESR) is responsible for implementing the agreed budget plan. It proposes public policy priorities for all research programmes by defining the objectives and the means necessary to achieve them on an annual basis. Hence, the budget of the National Research Agency (ANR) of that of the CNRS are sub-parts of the MIRES. They then act programme and project funders.

The Commissariat-General for Investment is responsible for the Investments for the Future Plan (which funds mainly research and higher education sectors). It is ‘off-bugdet’ and the capital invested should add up to €57b.

France has the highest level of indirect government funding of R&D of all the OECD countries. Not only is the French R&D tax credit the most advantageous for companies performing R&D activities, but as the OECD analysed, it is also well designed, favouring SMEs over large groups and addressing ‘gazelles’ needs (with the ‘young and growing enterprises’ scheme). In 2013, the R&D tax credit accounted for €5.3b, though it seems to have reached its peak and may be declining in the following years.

Thematic vs. generic funding:

  • The most generic funding is the R&D tax credit, constant at €5.3b, over the latest two fiscal years (2013 and 2014), which supports all companies investing in R&D, as long as the expenditures are eligible according to the Frascati Manual definition.
  • Concerning the National Research Agency, since 2009, generic programming (labelled white programming) has gained importance. From less than 30% of the programming credits ANR until 2008, they accounted to €278m in 2011, i.e. more than half of the ANR programming.

On the thematic side, an overview of the credits allocated by MIRES gives an overall correct representation of the fiscal effort made in favour of the various research themes. As of 2014, about one-third of the €16bn funding goes to thematic areas, whereas two thirds are unspecified or multidisciplinary.

Smart Specialisation

Seven-year contracts, the State-Region Plan Contracts (CPER) organise the relationships and set financial credits to meet regional policy objectives. The design of the new generation of CPERs has been synchronised with the European Structural Funds programmes (hence with RIS3). CPERs focuses on competitiveness, on attractiveness of territories as places to do business, on the promotion of sustainable development and on territorial and social cohesion. In 2013, regional stakeholders saw the Smart Specialisation Strategy as a set of guiding principles for their innovation strategic plans. The need to formulate regional projects applying for European regional funding in the framework of a smart specialisation strategy strongly encourages its use, while conditionality is an effective means for dissemination. At national level, the Interministerial Delegation for Territorial Development and Regional Attractiveness (DATAR) has developed specific schemes aiming at favouring regional shifts from former regional innovation strategies towards smart specialisation strategies.

Knowledge markets

France has adopted a very proactive attitude as regards knowledge markets. Unlike any other EU member states, it has chosen to establish a sovereign patents fund (as of March 2010). ‘France Brevets’ would eventually benefit from €100 million capital, half from Caisse des Dépots et Consignations (CDC), half from the Investment for the Future Plan. The Fund’s mission is to support private and public research to better leverage its patent portfolio on the international stage. So far, its investments priority area is ICTs, to be complemented with aeronautics and space, new energy, chemistry, materials, life and environment sciences.

Evaluations, consultations, foresight exercises

As of 2014-2015, the evaluation system reached a new maturity with three key components:

  • The HCERES  – Haut Conseil de l’Evaluation de la Recherche et de l’Enseignement Supérieur (which replaces the AERES) carries out regular assessments of all institutions, research units and higher education training programmes. Duly registered with EQAR, HCERES complies with national regulation and with European Standards and Guidelines (ESG).
  • The Parliamentary Office for Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST) will provide a biennial evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness (including of public aid to private research) of the March 2015 National research Strategy. Notice that the National Research Strategy is to include multi-annual programming (4 years).
  • The National Commission for the Evaluation of Innovation Policies (installed in June 2014) is responsible for evaluating innovation policies.

Two recent evaluations are worth-mentioning.

First, on 27 June 2014, the OECD has delivered the long awaited “OECD Review of Innovation Policy: France”, contracted by the Commissariat General for Investment. The review recommends finalising the structural changes partially implemented to allow more focus on excellence funding, better evaluation of the research and a closer coordination between industry and the public sector. It also recommends that the role of universities should be strengthened, along with powerful public research organisations.

Second, the official and comprehensive ex-post assessment of the effectiveness of the R&D tax credit was published in July 2014. Among evidence provided by the evaluation, (i) additionality is confirmed, (ii) connections between company R&D and public research institutions are encouraged, (iii) despite violent effects of deindustrialisation, the intensity of private R&D has increased since 2008.

Knowledge transfer and open innovation

Reaching a higher competitiveness level is on top of the French policy agenda. To link more efficiently public and corporate research is one of the key components of this agenda. A specific focus is put on supporting the use of research outcomes from a business perspective. As a consequence, the 2013 law on Higher Education and Research strengthens these efforts. An example is the new book of the Code of Research which stipulates that inventions resulting from publicly funded research should preferably be commercialised through SMEs and ETIs on European territory. On-going support actions are numerous. They mostly imply public-private collaborations. A much solicited policy scheme is the Investment for the future plan, with key initiatives such as the 14 SATT (Sociétiés d’Accéleration du Transfert de Technologies/ Societies for Accelerating Technology Transfer, representing a possible investment of €1b over 10 years or the 20 IRT/ITE (Instituts de Recherche Technologique; Instituts pour la Transition Energétique), worth €2b over 10 years  Apart from those which relate to the Investment for the Future Plan, it is worth mentionning the 34 Instituts Carnot (the French equivalent of the German Fraunhofer) or the 5 CEA-TECH regional platforms.

Performance of the National Research and Innovation system

The EU Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 classifies France as an innovation follower, i.e. its innovation performance has been slightly about or close to the EU-28 averages. This mediocre ranking has not changed at least since the EU Innovation Scoreboard 2007.

Structural challenges of the national R&I system

A list of structural challenges was proposed in ‘France Europe 2020’ strategic agenda (May 2013):

          1. Mobilising research stakeholders on major societal challenges

2. Remodelling coordination and direction of research in France

3. Promoting technological research

4. Developing training and digital infrastructure

5. Promoting innovation and technology transfer

6. Internalising scientific culture

7. Programming research and innovation according to national strategic priorities

8. Building coherence around research and innovation sites

9. Increasing the presence of French research at European and international levels

Each of these nine action lines correspond to a partial answer to some of the most important challenges of the French research and innovation system. “France Europe 2020” (May 2013) details a set of associated measures.

In a condensed manner, four structural challenges can be identified:

  1. Insufficient culture of innovation
  2. Unsatisfactory linkages between the education system, businesses and industry
  3. Lack of efficient technology and knowledge transfer to industry
  4. Limited use of evaluation and assessment tools to monitor socio-economic impacts of research and innovation policies
Meeting structural challenges

Since these challenges are systemic, only convergent efforts and undertaken over a long period of time can succeed. The R&I policy mix is addressing these four challenges with appropriate means. As visible from the list, systemic challenges do not require mainly money or legal provisions, but persistence and coherence.

Innovation framework for SMEs

Policy measures dedicated to favour SMEs and young innovative companies’ development have grown over the past few years, from support to start-ups to specific innovation-oriented research tax-credit. 71 innovation and knowledge clusters (“Pôles de compétitivité 3.0”, 2013-2018) and knowledge transfer platforms were created. Among them, 8 Institutes of Technological Research  (May 2011), 12 Institutes for Energy Transition (February 2014), SATTs (“Instituts Carnot”, Labcoms). This should encourage the cooperation and knowledge sharing so that a more favourable business environment for SMEs is in place. The creation of an ombudsman service (“Médiateur interentreprises”) dedicated to facilitating innovation linkages between companies (between large and small companies in particular) is an important step. Most bpifrance’s financial products are dedicated to innovation-driven SMEs. The MENESR will continue supporting the Young Innovative Enterprises (YIE) scheme at least until 2016.

Venture capital markets

Even though there is a well-structured organisation representing the private venture capital investors (‘Association des investisseurs pour la croissance’), the French Public Investment Bank bpifrance is by far the biggest venture capitalist. In 2013 bpifrance supported about €500m of the €650m with capital dedicated to innovation (capital-innovation). Data on this topic are sporadic and the metrics used are fragile (mainly because of multiple participation links).

Innovative public procurement

The key initiative is the Measure 32 of the National Pact for Growth, Competitiveness and Employment (from January 2013). The measures envisages that public procurement dedicated to SMEs shall reach 2% of public procurement in 2020. The Handbook of innovative public procurement was published on the 30th of January 2014, providing good and bad practices in innovative public purchase in the form of 15 key success factors.

The country in the European R&I landscape

Gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) in France reached €47.2b in 2013 or 2.23% of GDP. It amounts to 17.2% of all R&D expenditures in EU-28. GERD has kept on growing since 2006. The government budget appropriations or outlays for research and development (GBAORD) amounted to €14.8b in 2014 and they have kept on decreasing since 2009. On the other hand, Business expenditures on R&D (BERD) have grown over the period from 1.27% in 2007 to 1.44% in 2013.

Main features of the R&I system

France’s R&I system is characterised by a satisfactory level of public investment and a relatively low level of investment performed by companies. This low R&D intensity is mainly explained by an insufficient weight of manufacturing highly intensive firms in the GDP. Key measures providing support to industrial R&D (e.g. R&D tax credit) and encourage stonger linkages between public and corporate research (e.g. Competitiveness Clusters policy, Instituts Carnot policy, IRTs). The latter shall enable a new dynamics in the development of new growth sectors.

Structure of the national research and innovation system and its governance

At the national level, the Ministry for Primary, Secondary and Higher Education and Research (MENESR) designs and co-ordinates research policy. It is assisted by a consultative body: the Strategic Research Council (established on 19 December 2013). The Ministry for the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs (MEIN) is responsible for industrial research and for innovation policies (shared with the MENESR). Under direct authority of the Prime Minister, the highly endowed High Commission for Investments (CGI) plays a complementary structuring role. Public financing of research (and higher education) originates mainly from a single interministerial budget, the Interministerial Mission on Research and Higher Education (MIRES). The budget is implemented through hundreds of agencies (among which is the National Research Agency) and less than 50 of them account for about 90% of the credits.

Other RIO Country Reports for France

RIO Country Reports for another country

Select another country:

This location will be use to rendering the component