Finland Gears Up For Joint Forum

Finland Gears Up For Joint Forum

Published: April 27, 2011 (Issue # 1653)

Innovation in management, energy efficiency, information technologies and healthcare are some of the key topics of the forthcoming EU-Russia Innovation Forum, which will be held in the Finnish town of Lappeenranta on May 25 to 26.

The small town on the Russian-Finnish border is getting ready to receive representatives of more than 300 Russian and 200 European companies, representing some of the most important businesses on the continent as well as leading politicians from across the European Union.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen, who has confirmed her presence at the event, is still waiting for a response from the Kremlin concerning President Dmitry Medvedev’s attendance. Some confirmed speakers include Anatoly Chubais, head of Rosnano; Aho Esko, executive vice president of Nokia; Oleg Deripaska, general director of Basic Element investment company; and Enrico Castanini, general manager of Datasiel holding.

The forum’s ideologists are facing the daunting task of reconciling two conflicting approaches to innovations that exist in Russia and the EU. Russia’s domestic companies have shown a very low appetite for innovations, and invest in new technologies reluctantly. According to a recent sociological poll that was held simultaneously in Russia and Finland, more than 50 percent of Finnish companies are willing to spend money on modernization, while only 10 percent of Russian enterprises wish to do so.

“The level of academic research in Russia is very high but, in contrast to EU countries, the findings of Russian scientists are rarely related to the demands of the market,” said Katja Keinanen, the forum’s secretary general.

In EU countries, research in universities and scientific centers is often sponsored not by the state but by large holdings that are directly interested in the outcome.

“Most of the largest Russian companies depend on lucrative state tenders; it is an open secret that to win one of those tenders you need good connections rather than innovations,” said Mikhail Khitrov, general director of the Center for Speech Technologies, a company that became one of the main newsmakers of the first forum, held last year, as a Russian company that successfully entered the EU market at the event.

“Our companies lack motivation to invest in technologies as the market situation here does not provide a strong enough impulse for that. Thankfully, that depressing trend has begun to decline.”

May 24 and 25 will see a series of business meetings between Russian and EU companies organized with an eye to facilitating professional connections. Keinanen also said it is expected that several high-profile business deals, including at least one on a federal level, will be inked at the forum, although she declined to elaborate on details, as negotiations are still in process.

She also added that all the businesspeople attending the meetings will be able to visit the main forum sessions too.

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