Commissioner Janez Potocnik: A new era for road transport research, Transport Research Arena – Europe 2006 Conference

June 13, 2006

Gothenburg, 12 June 2006

Dear Minister Messing,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be with you at the opening of the Transport Research Arena Europe 2006 Conference here in Gothenburg.

The Commission is proud to co-organise this event with the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR) and the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC).

I must also express my special thanks to the local organisers, the Swedish Road Administration (Vägverket) and the Swedish research agency (VINNOVA), who are supporting this event.

The setting of Gothenburg is most appropriate given its close association with the motor industry, with academic excellence, master craftsmanship and, of course, with the Council’s declaration on Sustainable Development during the Swedish Presidency in 2001.

This conference, the first of its kind for road transport research in Europe, gives a clear signal of the vitality of the sector. It provides an excellent opportunity to disseminate the results of national and European research projects, to exchange ideas, innovations and contact details and to communicate freely between ourselves.

In my contribution to the conference, I would like to give you a short overview of the present situation of European road transport research and of forthcoming European research initiatives, with particular mention to the 7th European research Framework Programme (2007-2013), but I will start first with a few words on the political environment of research.

The political context for research

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The road transport industry (including the automotive industry), is the largest R&D investor in Europe. It comprises of many of the top R&D investing companies in the world, including the largest R&D investor worldwide.

R&D makes this sector in Europe very competitive. To some extent, the challenge we face is to reproduce this dynamic throughout the whole European economy.

As you know, in 2000, the importance of research and innovation was highlighted, in Lisbon, by the European Heads of State and Government, as being one of the cornerstones for the European Union’s drive to become the most competitive, and dynamic, knowledge-based economy in the world.

So what is the situation in Europe five years later? I would say: “diverse”. The good news, though, is that research is now much further up the political agenda and that there is now a commitment to invest more heavily in this area.

Member States have now produced their National Reform plans, which all reflect a significant effort in research investment. If all commitments are respected, by 2010 the EU will have reached a level of 2.6% of its GNP dedicated to R&D.

With such a figure, I may not impress anyone here in Sweden, which devotes already more than 4% of its GNP to research. But one must realise the structural change this will represent for the EU at large; the clear signal that the Continent has woken up.

Yes, this would fall short of the 3% target which has been set. Yes, one needs to continue to work hard to reach that goal. But even more so, what we need are rapid and concrete actions and effective implementation. My role as Research Commissioner is to ensure the best conditions for this to happen.

And we need to speed up: emerging economies, such as China and India, are committed to rapidly increasing their research investment, we all know that.

Accordingly, the high level of investment in R&D achieved in the Transport sector has to be maintained – if not increased – in order to give the industry a leading advantage.

In fact we need to create an environment which is more conducive to innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship; we need to make Europe more attractive for research investment.

Last October, Vice-President VERHEUGEN and I presented a joint Action Plan on research and innovation.

The measures we proposed at that time will now take form in a series of policy documents for the second half of this year. They address more specifically an innovation-friendly alignment of the EU State aid regime for research and innovation within a new framework, better use of public procurement, European guidelines on the use of fiscal incentives, guidelines on co-operation and technology transfer between public research and industry, better use of intellectual property rights, and finally, a better dialogue with stakeholders, private and public, in key strategic areas, to assess where there is a need to complement support to research and other supply side measures with demand side measures to foster the market take up of new technologies.

The Aho report

In this context I want to draw your attention to the Aho Report entitled “Creating an Innovative Europe”, which responded directly to a request from the European Council following the Hampton Court Summit last October.

The report, drawn up by Mr. AHO, the former Prime Minister of Finland, and a group of eminent personalities, made several recommendations to make Europe more attractive for research investment and innovation. I will mention a few points.

The key role of Technology Platforms for the creation and exploitation of innovation-friendly markets is stressed. The priorities for action set by the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) are noted.

Moreover, with a view to boost markets for technology intensive goods and services, the report highlights Transport as a priority theme, it underlines the importance of an integrated approach, and the role that the industry must play to shape tomorrow’s sustainable road transport and logistics.

Regarding public authorities, they have an important role to play in creating more favourable framework conditions, through appropriate and effective regulation on product markets, by facilitating standardization, by improving IPR systems, and through public procurement.

I expect that the contents of the AHO report, together with the Commission’s initiatives for enhanced research and innovation, will be further discussed during the upcoming Finnish Presidency, which will dedicate an informal Council to reforms for innovation already next month.

The 7th Framework Programme for R&D, including for road transport

Let me now turn more specifically to future research in the road transport sector.

I would like to remind you that the Community has invested more than 250 million Euros on road transport R&D in the current 6th Research Framework Programme.

The Community’s financial contribution might appear modest in the eyes of large multinational companies. However, research in the road transport sector has been supported at Community level for more than 15 years. This has led to important developments in such areas as the improvement of road safety (for both vehicles and infrastructure) and the reduction of fuel consumption, pollutant emissions and noise.

The message I want to convey here is that this support will not just continue, but even increase, under the 7th Framework Programme to start in 2007.

For the first time, there will be a dedicated priority theme on “Transport” in the 7th Framework Programme. The share of the budget directly dedicated to this theme - around 13% of “cooperation” - is the third highest after the “Information Society” and “Health” themes.

It is anticipated that a budget of approx. 4.2 billion Euros will be dedicated to the 7th Framework Transport theme.

This figure includes research for all modes of Surface Transport, as well as for Aeronautics and future applications of the Galileo positioning system.

I am also pleased to report that, at the informal Competitiveness Council in GRAZ last April, Ministers gave positive feedback, some highlighting Transport as one of the main priorities. This was again confirmed in the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on the 30th of May.

The other good news is that there seems to be a favourable climate, both in the Council and in the European Parliament, to adopt the legislative package of Framework Programme 7 in time to start activities at the beginning of 2007.

In substance, the main objective of the “Transport” theme will be twofold:

  • Firstly to develop greener, safer, more secure transport systems for the benefit of the citizens and society which respect the environment and natural resources; I believe that a breakthrough must be achieved to make Transport less harmful to the environment and more effective socially;
  • Secondly, to secure, and further develop, the leading role of the European industries in the global market. There is no doubt that, in the coming years, regulations will become tougher throughout the world. The industry will have to be prepared to respond to and comply with these regulations.
Overall, emphasis has been placed on five priorities:

  • The greening of surface transport;
  • Encouraging modal shift and decongesting transport corridors;
  • Ensuring sustainable urban mobility;
  • Improving safety and security; and
  • Strengthening competitiveness.
In developing these themes, the Commission has reflected the needs identified by Technology Platforms.

For the road transport sector, the major aspects of the “Vision of the road transport in 2020” and the “Strategic Research Agenda” developed by ERTRAC have been taken into account.

I am confident that the activities proposed for the road transport sector will prepare us for the challenges we will have to face together.

In addition there will be opportunities for the road transport sector in other Priority Themes including “Energy”, “Information and Communication Technologies” and “Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies”. Cooperation and coordination will take place between these Themes to ensure a balanced and consistent treatment of research priorities.

Concerning the dedicated instruments for R&D support in FP7, most research will be carried out by collaborative research in the “Cooperation” Specific Programme. A new instrument designed for industrial research is also being introduced: the Joint Technology Initiative (or JTI), based on long-term public- private partnerships.

Currently there are two JTIs at an advanced stage of development that will have a particular relevance to road research. They will cover embedded systems (through the ARTEMIS Technology Platform) and hydrogen and fuel cells (covered by the Technology Platform for this area). JTIs which show sufficient maturity will be presented to Council for final approval, most likely during 2007.

In addition, the Commission has recently launched a flagship project on the “intelligent car” as part of the i-2010 initiative.


In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, may I wish you every success at the Transport Research Arena this week. Take time to participate actively in the sessions, visit the exhibition, meet people and establish contacts.

For my part I must express my wholehearted support for the organisation of this conference, which heralds a new era for road transport research. It demonstrates that cooperation between all the actors in the European road transport sector is possible, and provides the opportunity for the open exchange and cross-fertilisation of ideas.

These ingredients are key to the success of research and development and to the competitiveness of innovations, products and services in Europe. They can be further focussed through the work of Technology Platforms such as ERTRAC.

May I once again wish you all the best. I must add, on a personal basis, that I am pleased to hear that the next TRA conference is planned to take place in Slovenia in 2008, during the Slovenian Presidency. I hope I will get an invitation!

Thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/368 Date: 12/06/2006

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