Brussels, 08 Jun 2004
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION
Towards a European strategy for nanotechnology
Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are new approaches to research and development (R&D) that aim to control the fundamental structure and behaviour of matter at the level of atoms and molecules. These fields open up the possibility of understanding new phenomena and producing new properties that can be utilised at the micro- and macro-scale. Applications of nanotechnology are emerging and will impact on the life of every citizen.
Over the last decade the European Union (EU) has established a strong knowledge base in nanosciences. Our ability to maintain this position is in doubt since the EU is investing proportionately less than its main competitors and lacks world-class infrastructure ("poles of excellence") that muster the necessary critical mass. This is despite the fact that investment in national EU programmes is growing in a rapid but independent way.
European excellence in nanosciences must finally be translated into commercially viable products and processes. Nanotechnology is emerging as one of the most promising and rapidly expanding fields of R&D to provide new impetus towards the dynamic knowledge-based objectives of the Lisbon process. It is crucial, however, that a favourable environment for innovation is created, in particular, for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Nanotechnology must be developed in a safe and responsible manner. Ethical principles must be adhered to and potential health, safety or environmental risks scientifically studied, also in order to prepare for possible regulation. Societal impacts need to be examined and taken into account. Dialogue with the public is essential to focus attention on issues of real concern rather than "science fiction" scenarios.
This Communication proposes actions as part of an integrated approach to maintain and strengthen European R&D in nanosciences and nanotechnologies. It considers the issues that are important to ensure the creation and exploitation of the knowledge generated via R&D for the benefit of society. In this context, the time is right for launching a debate at an institutional-level in view of coherent action to:
­ increase investment and coordination of R&D to reinforce the industrial exploitation of nanotechnologies whilst maintaining scientific excellence and competition;
­ develop world-class competitive R&D infrastructure ("poles of excellence") that take into account the needs of both industry and research organisations;
­ promote the interdisciplinary education and training of research personnel together with a stronger entrepreneurial mindset;
­ ensure favourable conditions for technology transfer and innovation to ensure that European R&D excellence is translated into wealth-generating products and processes;
­ integrate societal considerations into the R&D process at an early stage;
­ address any potential public health, safety, environmental and consumer risks upfront by generating the data needed for risk assessment, integrating risk assessment into every step of the life cycle of nanotechnology-based products, and adapting existing methodologies and, as necessary, developing novel ones;
­ complement the above actions with appropriate cooperation and initiatives at international level.
The actions described in this Communication are also in line with the European Councils of Lisbon 2000, declaring the commitment to develop a dynamic knowledge-based economy and society, of Gothenburg 2001, aiming at sustainable development, and of Barcelona 2002, targeting 3% of GDP funding for research1. It also contributes towards the development of the European Research Area (ERA) 2 and profits from it.