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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Europe in science

Business urges more 'demand' for research

The EU is too focused on creating infrastructures and generating research activity when it should concentrate on creating markets and demand for research and innovation, argues BusinessEurope ahead of a Council meeting with a heavy research agenda.

The Commission responded to these concerns by announcing an upcoming communication on joint public research programmes, which will start a process next year to identify both priorities for international co-operation and topics to be left at national level. Member states are expected to be closely involved in this process from the beginning.

The Commission also underlined that the target of increasing EU investment in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2010 is an example of a mix of 'pull side' measures in the areas of fiscal policy, internal market and IPR that will be followed up with the communication on lead markets in December 2007.

EU struggling to secure funds for 'low carbon future'

The European Commission has proposed industrial initiatives and greater research efforts as part of plans to increase the uptake of low CO2 technologies in the EU, but postponed difficult financing questions to next year.
Low carbon energy technologies include renewables such as wind, solar and hydrogen, but also more conventional technologies such as 'sustainable' nuclear fission and carbon capture and storage (CCS), although environmental groups question whether these can truly be considered clean./well, from my point of view it's all right as fission for now is way cleaner than fossils/
These 'green' or 'clean' technologies are seen as a key part of the development of an Energy Policy for Europe, officially launched with the Commission's publication of a 10 January energy and climate 'package' that was endorsed by EU leaders in March 2007.
A communication calling for a new 'Strategic Energy Technology Plan' (SET Plan) was presented as part of the January package.

EU technology initiatives crawl one step further

After months of discussions on the legal structure and statutes, the Competitiveness Council found a majority in support of the first four Joint Technology Initiatives, which could finally be kicked off in 2008.
Announced in the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), JTIs are meant to establish long-term, public-private partnerships on specific research areas, combining private-sector investment with national and European public funding.

The novelty of these initiatives is that the research topics would be defined by industry. They also represent a move away from the traditional approach of case-by-case public funding of projects to concentrate resources on a few strategic issues, defined by industry in specific fields.

The Commission has identified six areas in which JTIs could be established: innovative medicines; embedded computing systems; aeronautics and air transport; hydrogen and fuel cells; nanoelectronics technologies 2020, and; global monitoring for environment and security.
Four of these proposals have reached the Council table after serious delays over discussions on the legal structure of JTIs:
  • Innovative medicines (IMI )

  • Embedded computing systems (ARTEMIS )

  • Nano-electronic technologies (ENIAC )

  • Aeronautics and air transport (CLEAN SKY )
The Council reached a common understanding on main elements related to the four proposals in September 2007.
My comment: Now that's a progress, though I don't understand why Hydrogen and fuel cells was left out. It's practical! But go ahead, let's have something real instead of bunch of nice ideas.

EIT agreed but funding still to be found

EU ministers in charge of research policy reached a political agreement this morning on the European Institute of Technology, leaving the more difficult issue of its financing to economy ministers discussing the 2008 budget today.

The EU-27 ministers in charge of competitiveness reached, on 23 November 2007, a political agreement on a compromise text on the Commission's proposal for a regulation establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

Several countries have already expressed their desire to host the institute and in the Council discussions, on 23 November, some member states pressed for the EIT's governing board to be established "as soon as possible". " /yeah, right, if it's for the money,me wants too /

While the content of the regulation is now known and agreed upon, the precise funding of the institute remains somewhat unclear. The sources of the Community contribution to the EIT will be subject to a separate agreement.

The Council has agreed to allocate some €308.7 million of Community money to the EIT's initial phase, 2008-2013, but no money is foreseen for that purpose in the EU's long-term budget. Part of the amount could be assigned to the EIT from the 2008 budget.

Galileo comes one step closer to reality

A new plan for industrial tendering for the troubled satellite navigation system, tabled by the Commission, is expected to find support at a meeting of EU transport ministers later this week after Germany said its concerns over tendering rules have been met.

The Commission has presented the EU member states a new industrial tendering plan for Galileo, in what appears to be a last-chance attempt to save the troubled EU project.
"If we don't reach a clear agreement on the financing of Galileo before the end of this year, it will be too late and we need to put an end to our efforts," warned Michele Cercone.

Cercone said the revised plan had made progress on three issues: governance, financing and the industrial tendering process for Galileo.
He said the latter would include at least the following principles in order to "guarantee competition and transparency":
  • rules on 'non-accumulation': in the tendering process, the prime contractor could be the prime contractor only in two of the segments and not more;
  • sub-contracting: the prime contractor would have to subcontract a large share (around 40%) to other companies that are not winners of the bid.
Germany, which had voiced concerns that competitive tendering rules could end up excluding home firms from the Galileo projects, has already signaled that it could support the Commission's new proposal.
"No member state has shown opposition to work inside this framework. So we are convinced that a solution to Galileo's problems can be found inside it," said Cercone, adding that the Commission hoped to achieve substantial progress on the issue before the Transport Council this week, on 29 November.
The same day, after marathon discussions on the EU 2008 budget, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers reached an agreement on the on the financing of of the Galileo through EU budget.
My comment: Yes! I mean it! This project should have started so long ago and it looked doom for a while. But now I see a new life in it. And it was hight time. Competition makes the progress, with Galileo breathing in the neck of GPS, I'm sure, innovations won't be late.

EU research networks threatened by lack of funding

The future of research co-operation projects launched under the EU-funded Networks of Excellence (NoE) is being called into question due to lack of political will and insufficient support from member states, a scientific forum warned last week.

Partners of Networks of Excellence gathered on 20 November 2007 sounded the alarm over the future of the Networks of excellence (NoE) EU research policy instrument. Introduced under the Sixth Framework Programme for research (FP6), NoEs were designed to overcome the fragmentation of European research on particular topics by durably integrating different partners' research capacities.
"The future of the NoE is however unclear. There are risks of interruption of several successful initiatives which brought together many research institutes and universities from all 27 member states," stated the forum.
An opinion paper put together by FP6-funded NoEs deplores that "in FP7, the number of NoEs has been substantially cut back in the first calls, with only 17 networks being funded, as compared to 101 in FP6. In addition, no support for existing NoEs has been announced." The networks launched under FP6 do not know how to survive and secure financing once the EU funding has been used. The average €7 million EU contribution (double that of an ordinary EU-funded project) allows for three to five years of activity, but durable integration takes more time.
He added, that "'open research' is the idea that if you want to carry out research in Europe in an integrated way, you can't rely solely on the Commission. You have to bring together the different, including national, research funders - the Commission can only act as a catalyst for cross-border discussions."
Asked whether the mandate of the group was linked to the identification of the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) of the European Institute of Technology, Magnien said that the Commission will propose a revision of FP7 in 2009.

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