RIO Country Report Spain 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).

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The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the Spanish 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 Spain 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. 

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Country Report file

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

The debt crisis has led Spain to apply severe cuts to its public R&I budgets. Regulatory changes to comply with public deficit targets have also delayed the implementation of important R&I instruments (e.g. the creation of the Research Agency) and limited the recruitment of research staff. The implementation of the new policy framework set by the Law (LCTI -2011) and the new strategy and plan (EESTI and PECTI) has been erratic due to delays in launching calls of important policy programmes and the non-execution of an important part of the R&I public budgets.

ERA priority 2: Optimal transnational co-operation and competition

Policy efforts have been made to increase the internationalisation and orientation towards societal challenges of the Spanish R&I system. The new plan PECTI plan (2013-2016) follows previous efforts and encourages the internationalisation of the research system. The system is also moving towards a better alignment with the European agenda. Spain participates actively in different joint activities (e.g. ERA-NETS, Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI), Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI)). In addition, due to its traditional relationship with Latin America, cooperation programmes with this region are important.

National R&I strategies and policies

Central government provides an R&I policy framework, defining broad policy orientation on a multiannual basis through the national strategies and plans. The new strategy EESTI (2013-2020) and new plan PECTI (2013-2016) were approved on 1st February 2013. In addition, the LCTI Law adopted in 2011 and the Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation Support Act published in 2013 have also included important changes in the Spanish R&I system. The new strategy has set a new lower target of 2% for GERD as share of GDP for 2020.

National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014

The National Reform Programmes (NRP) 2013 and 2014 emphasise the launching of the new strategy and plan as important R&I measures. The creation of the National Research Agency is also mentioned, but not implemented yet. NRP 2013 introduces as a new policy measure the Support Act to encourage entrepreneurship and its internationalisation. It also sets a new lower target of 2% of GERD as share of GDP for 2020. NRP 2014 indicates that this target is aimed to be reached through an increase in private investments, but it does not clearly specified measures to boost such an increment. These contradict the statement of making R&I an important factor for gaining economic competitiveness.

ERA priority 3: An open labour market for researchers


Spain has a highly regulated market for researchers, with low levels of institutional autonomy for human resources management and a dual labour market for researchers (civil servants and non-civil servants). This dual labour market for researchers has made non-permanent researchers to suffer particularly the negative consequences of public budget reductions in R&I.

Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment of researchers

The labour markets conditions for young researchers have worsened over the post-crisis period with increasing unemployment rates, high temporariness, and a low level of access to research project funds for researchers with temporary contracts. Currently, the career path for young researchers is nearly non-existent making human resource management the area that probably requires the most urgent action. The law LCTI (2011) includes some changes regarding human resources for R&D, but these have been limited in their implementation.

Access to and portability of grants

Spain follows a quite open strategy and tends to grant full access to research grants for the training of individual researchers. However, foreign access to calls for R&D projects is usually restricted to nationally based researchers. Portability of grants tends to be difficult, requiring institutional agreements to make it possible.


Spain joined EURAXESS in 2004. The FECYT coordinates the network at national level and provides information and support to mobile researchers. It also promotes the Charter and Code among Spanish research institutions. The network has more than 80 centres in different regions. The use of the network has increased in the last years.

Doctoral training

Within the general framework set by national regulations, universities enjoy high level of autonomy in the organisation of their doctoral programmes through internal regulations. Some policy measures aim ate implementing some elements of the Innovative Doctoral Training. For example, the Campus of International Excellence” (CIE) or the “Severo Ochoa and María de Maeztu” programmes.  Intersectoral PhD training is encouraged throuth the “Torres Quevedo” programme.

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

The EESTI strategy (2013-2020) and the LCTI (2011) follow principles set out in the Charter and Code. More than 100 research institutions have endorsed the Charter and Code (Euraxess access). In addition, twelve institutions have acknowledged the HRS4R (Euraxess access 17.12.2014). However, the labour market is currently unattractive for national and foreign researchers and has additional barriers (e.g. ANECA cumbersome accreditation procedure) for foreign researchers.

Education and training systems

The number of graduates in science, technology and engineering has decreased importantly over the last ten years. The Bologna process has improved the focus of education and training curricula on equipping people with the capacity to learn and to develop transversal competences. However, this process has been implemented with a low degree of consensus among stakeholders and small budget for its enactment.

Policy developments related to Council Country Specific Recommendations

The Country Specific Recommendation (CSR) [COM(2014) 410 final] indicates that the Spanish R&I system needs to increase the quality of its scientific outputs and facilitate the conversion of research and innovation into commercial products. It points out that the adoption of the new EESTI strategy (2013-2020) needs to be properly supported with public funding. It recommends putting in place the new Spanish Research Agency.

ERA priority 5: Optimal circulation and access to scientific knowledge

e-Infrastructures and researchers’ electronic identity

New national, regional and institutional initiatives aim at encouraging the development of research and education-related e-infrastructures and digital research services. At national level, the new Law (LCTI), the new Strategy (EESTI – 2013-2020) and Plan (PECTI – 2013-2016) encourage access to research results and the use of data repositories. FECYT grant access to bibliographic information to research institutions. The Spanish Public Universities and Research Libraries Network (REBIUN) provides access and exchanges between 74 State Universities. The Eduroam ES project offers a common roaming environment between Spanish research organisations.

Open Access to publications and data

Measures for Open Access (OA) to scientific research and publications are being taken. The Law LCTI includes a disposition (Art. 37) on open access that aims at facilitating access to publically funded research results and data. Following this measure, the new plan includes requirements on open access in their calls. Digital Agenda for Spain, the Berlin Declaration, The Alhambra Declaration, Latindex and Dialnet are some initiatives that encourage open access.

Framework conditions

Several measures have been implemented in order to improve the framework conditions for supporting business investment in research and innovation and increase the below the EU average innovation performance of Spain. The role of innovation and knowledge transfer has gained importance in the Spanish policy mix with increasing number of programmes targeting public-private collaboration and knowledge transfer. However, joint formulation, coordinated implementation and systemic evaluation of supply and demand side policies are challenged by the governance structure of the Spanish research system. There is some indication that the innovation culture of the country has improved among universities and research centres.

Science-based entrepreneurship

The law LCTI (2011) has introduced several changes to improve the mechanisms of knowledge transfer. These include the valorisation of transfer activities, the promotion of the “units of excellence” and the changes that allow researchers to work part-time and participate in spin-offs. Investments in risk capital have decreased significantly over the last four years.

Funding trends

Funding flows

In 2013, Spain spent 1.24% of GDP on R&D, reaching a figure similar than the one in 2007 (1.23%) and far from the European average of (2.02%). Between 2009 and 2012 GBAORD has decreased significantly. Private R&D investments as a percentage of GDP stagnated over the same period in 0.58%, far from the EU average of 1.1%. Spain could be benefit more from European funds for R&I as the share of Structural Funds for R&I is lower and concentrated in few regions. The EU Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 points out that the strengths of the Spanish R&I system rely mainly on its human resources base and research production.

Project vs. institutional allocation of public funding

Figures on the share of project vs. institutional public funding for R&D are not usually publically available. However, some estimates indicate that the approximate share of national project funding over the total funding was around 37% in 2013. National project funding has decreased significantly over the last five years. This funding mode has especially suffered from public budget reductions due to the more fix character of the other budget lines. The new plan PECTI states that most of the funds will be distributed through competitive funding mechanisms.

R&I funding

The importance of knowledge transfer and innovation has been increasing in the Spanish policy mix. The Centre for Industrial Development (CDTI) manages most of the national programmes for the promotion of private innovation and technological development. Regions have also an important role in the promotion of innovation. Spain implements a large set of inntruments for R&I funding, but the use of some indirect R&I funding mechanisms (e.g. tax incentives) appears to be low.

Smart Specialisation

All Spanish regions have developed and made public their RIS3 strategies: Andalusia, Aragón, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla-la Mancha, Castille and León, Catalonia, Comunity of Madrid, Valencian Community, Extremadura, Galicia, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, La Rioja, Navarre, The Basque Country and the Region of Murcia. These seem to have been developed following a similar structure, which includes financial requirements, measures to stimulate private investment, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. At national level, priorities for future areas of specialisation do not appear to have been identified yet.

Knowledge markets

In addition to the measures included by the law LCTI, the Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation Support Act (Law 14/2013) aims at improving the training for entrepreneurs by encouraging creativity at different educational levels. Spain has not signed the European Agreement on the Unified Patent Court due to objections to the requirement that translations should be only in English, German and French. The “Technology Platforms” programme might be considered as an instrument to develop knowledge markets for patents and licencing.

Evaluations, consultations, foresight exercises

In 2014, the European Research and Innovation Area Committee (ERAC) carried out the most recent peer review evaluation of the R&D Spanish system. The “ERAC Peer Review of Spanish Research and Innovation System Final Report” points out that the system has an unequal distribution of its levels of excellence, a fragmented system of governance, with significant institutional rigidities that prevent an effective flow of people and knowledge; and that it lacks of an effective system of evaluation. The Spanish evaluation culture is dominated by its control functions. Evaluations are sometimes merely cumbersome fiscal controls, in which the learning function of the evaluation process tends to be absent.

Knowledge transfer and open innovation

The new EESTI strategy (2013-2020) and PECTI plan (2013-2016) follow previous efforts to improve knowledge transfer and innovation (e.g. INGENIO 2010, National Plan for R&D (2008-2011) and e2i). They encourage the creation of NTBFs and university spin-offs; the promotion of R&D projects in general and more specifically public-private cooperation in long term strategic projects (e.g. Sub-programme of collaborative R&I). They also include policies to foster human capital, such as the incorporation of PhD holders into the private sector. They offer extra financial support for R&I in general and specifically for risk capital and pay attention to societal challenges and public procurement for the acquisition of innovative goods and services. The new Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation Support Act (Law 14/2013) also aims at improving finance for entrepreneurs and reducing the administrative burden on starting a new business.

Performance of the National Research and Innovation system

According to the Innovation Union Competitiveness Report the Spanish R&I system has a strong human resource base with positive levels of openness and excellence in its research base and shows some encouraging economic outputs effects. Nevertheless, the system shows important weaknesses in most of the business-related indicators. Private R&D funding shows levels far below that of the EU average and a worrying decreasing trend. Likewise, intellectual assets and economic effects related to knowledge intensive services figures are far below the European average.

Structural challenges of the national R&I system

The critical impact of the financial crisis on the Spanish R&I system has shown that one of the main challenges of the Spanish R&I system is its fragile and unstable governance structure. The budget reductions have particularly affected the labour market for young researches, making he human resource management the most pressing problem of the system. In addition to these urgent structural challenges, the Spanish R&I system faces other persistent structural challenges in its industrial structure, science and technology base, and its governance system.

Meeting structural challenges

The policy mix in the country has evolved considerably over the last decade, including a diversified set of instruments that aimed at tackling the structural challenges. However, these challenges remain indicating that the policy mix could have been more effective in addressing these. The limited use of a strategic policy management system and a learning evaluation system appears to reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of the policy action. The critical impact of the financial crisis in the R&I system points that the policy mix has been to a certain extent inflexible.

Innovation framework for SMEs

The Entrepreneurship and Internationalisation Support Act (Law 14/2013) has improved the legal framework for doing business and becoming an entrepreneur. The changes introduced appear to have facilitated the ease of starting a new business in the country, improving the position of Spain in the international rankings. The plan PECTI gives special attention to business R&I and SMEs by including them in its fifth objective. The diversity of instruments and support schemes for innovation appears to be difficult to apprehend and to exploit for SMEs.

Venture capital markets

The investments in risk capital have decreased significantly over the last four years. In 2009, there were about 54 networks and Business Angels groups. There is some indication that shows that investments in early stages in Spain are limited. Despite the existence of programmes, such as NEOTEC, it appears that funds for young innovative firms are also disperse and technologically oriented.

Innovative public procurement

Innovative public procurement has been stimulated in the country through the establishment of a legal framework (Law on Sustainable Economy and LCTI), two dedicated policy initiatives (INNODEMANDA and INNOCOMPRA), setting a 3% target, and through the creation of a guide to facilitate public procurement activities. However, it is difficult to assess the extent to which these policy instruments have been used and the progress towards meeting the 3% target.

The country in the European R&I landscape

The financial crisis has severely hit the Spanish R&I system. Spain has considerably reduced its R&D investments during the post-crisis period, threatening to set back the progress made before over the pre-crisis period. Declining trends have been especially important in public R&D budgets, diminishing the main country’s R&I capabilities - its human resources base and its research production.

Main features of the R&I system

Spain has a quasi-federal decentralised R&I system of governance, with regions having political and administrative responsibilities for research and innovation. Regions are in charge of university funding and their budgets represent about 60% of GBAORD. This decentralised R&I system poses some challenges to its governance, making necessary to improve coordination among different administrative levels and to reduce regional disparities.

Structure of the national research and innovation system and its governance

The Ministry of Economics and Competitiveness (MINECO) holds the main responsibilities for R&I policy design and operational management. It is responsible for drafting and managing the main R&I instruments: the multi-annual strategies and plans. The Spanish Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (EESTI) (2013-2020) and the Spanish State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation (PECTI) (2013-2016) were approved on 1st February 2013.

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