Brussels, 15 December 2004
OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission: Towards a European strategy for nanotechnology COM(2004) 338 final
Full text of Opinion in MS Word file on ESC website
[...] Conclusions The EESC fully agrees with the conclusions of the Competitiveness Council of 24 September 2004 on the important role and potential of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The results achieved to date suggest that it is important to sharpen up the expertise and build the instruments that enable atoms to be worked on, in order to produce new structures and modify the properties of existing ones. In this respect, the EESC recommends the immediate launch of a joint, integrated, responsible, European-level strategy, to focus in particular on: the development of joint efforts in RTD and scientific and technological demonstration and training; interaction between industry and the academic world; the accelerated development of industrial and multisectoral applications; and greater European coordination of policies, measures, structures and networks. As part of this strategy, a special effort must be made from the outset at international level too, to safeguard ethical, environmental, health and safety interests throughout the lifecycle of scientific applications and to promote appropriate technical standardisation. The EESC would emphasise the need for this strategy to be firmly anchored in the development of society, making a positive contribution not only to the competitiveness of the European economy but also, and above all, to human health, the environment and safety, not to mention quality of life. On this note, the EESC would stress the importance of securing the responsible and sustainable development of nanotechnology, from the outset, in order to meet the justifiable expectations of civil society with regard to environmental, health, ethical, industrial and economic aspects. The EESC recommends a substantial increase in the resources earmarked for basic research, as technological and industrial excellence is always based on scientific excellence. The 3% objective decided at Barcelona should be implemented, making a priority of concentrating resources in the field of nanoscience, the development of its applications, and the convergence between nano-, bio- and info- technology and knowledge-based technology. The Community's financial perspectives for 2007-2013, recently published by the Commission, should be assessed and remoulded in the light of the challenges posed by this new nanotechnology revolution. The increase in funds hoped for must be reflected in an appropriate financial provision under the forthcoming seventh framework programme. The figures should reflect those earmarked in other countries, such as the USA. The EESC is convinced that Europe should launch a high-level action plan with a definite road map and timetable and a joined-up approach, securing the necessary consensus among all civil society players on a shared vision. This vision must be translated into clear and transparent objectives for responding to the requirements of economic and social progress, and improved quality of life, safety and health for all. In the Committee's opinion, there is a need to establish technological platforms with a large critical mass and high European value added, bringing together public and private players from the worlds of science, finance and administration who are active in the various specific fields of application. The Committee would reiterate the urgent need to set up high-level European facilities and to strengthen the competence centres (CCs). Their location and specialisation would be determined on the basis of close coordination between European and local bodies, so as to pinpoint homogeneous industrial areas for local product specialisation, where a critical mass of R&D may already have taken root. The CCs should be able to carry out and transfer high-quality research aimed at application and innovation, using nanotechnology, particularly in fields such as nanoelectronics, nanobiotechnology and nanomedicine. Researchers must be certain that their intellectual property is protected, particularly in such a sensitive field. The EESC believes that solving the patenting issue in a clear and satisfactory way is a top priority if the success of applied research in the field of nanotechnology is to be secured. No time must be wasted in establishing a European-level Nano-IPR helpdesk, to meet the needs of researchers, companies and research centres. The Commission, in conjunction with the Member States, must step up its efforts and promote in-depth studies in universities and research centres, to ensure that the patenting process appears feasible, with straightforward and inexpensive procedures, particularly in such an innovative sector. As far as international cooperation is concerned, work on safety and the standardisation of measures and processes should be stepped up in conjunction with non-EU countries. Special attention should be given to China, which is investing heavily in the field of nanotechnologies. The USA and Japan, meanwhile, have a very aggressive policy in this area (cf. the agreement between China and the State of California on the development of centres of excellence for biomedical nanotechnologies). The EESC believes that an additional effort must be made, not least through the European initiative for growth launched in December 2003, to increase the number of nanotech companies in the EU. To this end, the relationship between universities, nanotechnological innovation centres and companies must be constantly promoted and improved. Measures are needed to target the development of nanotechnology-based industrial processes (from nanotechnology to nanomanufacturing), for companies both large and small. Europe should follow the American example of developing a plan to use federal programmes such as the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Research Program, in order to sustain an all-pervasive spread of nanotechnological development throughout the business fabric, however small the companies involved. Industry associations can play an important part here both nationally and locally. The Research and Enterprise DGs could jointly promote a number of intensive awareness-raising campaigns, involving all the economic and social players, on the basis of the positive experience developed in Trieste.
In the EESC's view, the establishment of a European information clearing-house would be a very important mechanism to facilitate:
the commercialisation of nanotechnology and the transfer of technologies and new concepts into commercial and military products,
the dissemination of the best practice of universities and public and private laboratories, with a view to transfer into commercial use.
Alongside and in connection with the European forums, there should be a number of worldwide forums, open to UN countries, and able to deal with issues relating to: