Interview with Esko Aho

Esko Aho, President of Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund for research and development, shared with Russia Today his views on economic co-operation between Russia and Europe

Russia Today: The fund you head had its own economic mini-forum back on Finland a few days ago. One of the main topics to come out of that forum was initial bilateral co-operation between Russia and the EU. What are the main points that came out of that forum?

Esko Aho: That forum has been dealing in a way with the same kind of issues – how to integrate Russia and Europe together better in the future. Both have the same kind of interests and needs for each other. The question is how to create such kind of co-operation so this strategic partnership is able to work.

RT: How big an investment tank is Russia currently being seen by the EU?

E.A.: It is one of the major investment potentials for Europe. It seems that Russia's investment rate has started to grow last year which is a very positive phenomenon. I am quite sure that Western European companies are increasingly interested to take part in the investment projects in Russia. We know that Russian infrastructure needs improvement. It is reasonable for Russia to use Western technologies and to co-operate with Western European companies. There are a lot of common interests, practical interests. If the political atmosphere is good they are rather easy to implement.

RT: How important is this forum for the integration of Russia into the global economy and specifically into the European economy?

E.A.: It is an important task for Russia which has to understand we need a complexity of efforts. It is not enough to have the capital available. A certain kind of environment for investment and innovation has to be created in Russia. It is a complicated issue. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov mentioned it today and his evaluation was excellent – you need broad based reforms in Russian society to be competitive in the future. It is rather easy to invest in the physical capital compared to the investment in human and intellectual capital which is going to get increasingly important in the future. That is why that kind of broad-based approach presented by Mr Ivanov is very important to be implemented.

RT: Your fund says it aims to bring innovations in the financial sector, so called “smart money”. What the innovations are you presenting here at the forum?

E.A.: Quite often when we speak about innovation we understand we need more money for research and development in research institutions and universities and knowledge creation but innovation is almost the opposite. R&D spend money to create knowledge but innovation transforms knowledge into business and well-being. It is very complicated process and I think we need several kinds of innovation – social, organisational, structural. And we need some clever money which is in the hands of venture funds and business angels. That is what we are doing in Finland and have had some success.