Brussels, 20 April 2006
OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee - Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009 COM(2005) 243 final _____________
Full text of Opinion in MS Word file on ESC website
[...] Conclusions and recommendations The Committee welcomes the proposals presented by the Commission to implement by 2009 an action plan for N&N in particular with regard to: the need to apply a sustainable, competitive, stable and durable model of development; the perceptible acceleration at global level of investment in nano-scale R&D and its applications; the need to analyse the risks and opportunities of the nano-scale approach, and the urgent need for a widely shared vision on the part both of the social partners' political and official decision-makers and, ultimately, of the general public and the media. This is in order to ensure the success of N&N, on account of their usefulness for the general public's health, safety and quality of life; the call for high-quality facilities and infrastructure, integrated European networks and shared databases; the need to provide qualified human resources in the scientific, technical and economic fields, together with scientific and industrial specialists capable of interacting with N&N; the advisability of creating a European focal point for promotion and coordination to serve as a stable, proactive partner for connecting industry and science in particular, both within the Union and internationally, to be supported by an operational office. Focal point staff must possess in-depth, proven scientific and management skills, and be particularly well attuned to the general context in which N&N development takes place. It is also true of N&N that "Community-funded research and development activities create considerable European added value. They open up potentials that plainly go beyond the capacities of individual Member States and have already facilitated European developments of global importance". This illustrates the importance of a Community focal point which can manage the sector, with clearly-allocated responsibilities. In the light of the N&N revolution, the Committee is convinced that Europe's chances of being at the forefront in a setting where new players are constantly - and aggressively - entering the world market hinges upon its capacity for coordination and upon the creation of a securely-based European critical mass of nanotechnology. In the Committee's view, it is crucial that the European Union should succeed in shaping an N&N action plan capable of mobilising a collective drive for governance, and of uniting the Community, national and regional levels in complying with the subsidiarity principle. More specifically, the plan should provide: a visible, transparent dialogue with civil society, ensuring awareness based on objective evaluations of the risks and opportunities presented by N&N; constant vigilance to protect ethical and environmental aspects, together with the health and safety of workers and consumers; a single Community focal point, capable of ensuring close coordination of the various policies and between the various areas of action; a single voice at international level to promote initiatives for joint declarations and codes of conduct, in order to guarantee the responsible use of N&N, to ensure cooperation in basic scientific research; action to prevent the emergence of a "nano-divide" (exclusion from developing N&N knowledge), together with the less developed nations; legal and regulatory certainty for research, application and innovation efforts on the N&N market; a calendar and detailed timetable for the planned actions at both Community and Member State level, with machinery to check on implementation, and with clearly-allocated responsibilities. The Committee calls for the Community action plan to be accompanied by national action plans, providing coordination and regular benchmarking of convergence and synergies in various fields: infrastructure; training and education; risk assessment; harmonisation of standards and patents; and, lastly, dialogue with civil society, especially consumers. The Committee believes that European industry should expand and intensify N&N research and application efforts, increasing investment to levels a t least equal to those of its more advanced competitors. This could be achieved by means of the following actions: development of European technology platforms; incentives for the protection and industrial exploitation of N&N; encouragement for targeted training for small-scale entrepreneurs; development of European N&N innovation and application networks; support for multidisciplinary qualification schemes for workers and technical specialists; establishment of "business nanotechnologies" and prototyping and certification laboratories; and creation of a common framework for technical standardisation and intellectual and industrial property. The two-yearly monitoring report on the implementation of the Community action plan and its consistency with other EU policies should, in the Committee's view, be accompanied by an annual scoreboard detailing compliance with the adopted timetable, and should include the Member State reports on the implementation of the national action plans. The report should be submitted to the European Economic and Social Committee as well as to the EP and the Council. Comments The Committee has always argued that stronger efforts to achieve an increase in absolute and relative terms of R&D investment in Europe are necessary as part of the effort to achieve the 3% Barcelona objective. In the light of international trends, it is convinced that such an effort is necessary first and foremost in the N&N sector. The Committee believes that the effort would be weakened if not made as part of a robust process of European-level coordination of national and regional N&N research programmes, partly via the ERA-NET and ERA-NET PLUS schemes. It should be backed by actions to raise awareness and support for research centres, industries and universities through the COST, ESF and EUREKA programmes, and with EIB loans. The Committee is of the view that such European coordination and cooperation should also cover Member State actions designed to develop interdisciplinary infrastructures and centres of N&N skills and excellence, which should also aim to link up with a pan-European network to multiply synergies and prevent wasteful duplication.