Brussels, 17 Nov 2005
Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has warned that Europe's leading role in global science and technology initiatives such as ITER can only be maintained with sufficient funding at EU level.
The Commissioner issued the warning during a speech at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) in Zurich on 16 November, but a number of his comments were clearly directed at European capitals and the EU leaders currently trying to reach an agreement on the Financial Perspectives.
'No European country can offer opportunities comparable to those found in either the US or the major emerging countries, China, India, or Brazil,' said Mr Potocnik. 'Only an integrated Europe is up to par.'
The critical mass and coordination needed to launch major European research and technology initiatives can only be ensured with strong EU funding, which is the core reason behind the Commission's proposal to double the research budget, he added.
And it is the existence of these major programmes and projects that allows Europe to play a leading role in addressing global challenges, believes Mr Potocnik. As well as the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) project, which aims to address the world's energy needs, he also pointed to global challenges such as HIV/AIDS and the threat of pandemic influenza as areas where integration has allowed Europe to assume a leading role.
'With these three examples you can see how the European Research Area is closely linked to global and not just European challenges [...]. A key feature to keep in mind, in connection to this, is that European integration does not occur without a critical mass of European-level funding,' Mr Potocnik stressed.
While he accepts that it is hard to generalise on the basis of a few examples, the Commissioner pointed out that the need for increased integration has also been highlighted through the work of European Technology Platforms in fields ranging from aeronautics to vaccines. 'I want to be clear here: this is not just the Commission's view. This is the considered and agreed view of European industry and stakeholders,' he added.
Similarly, it was not the Commission that highlighted the need for a new scheme to fund excellent basic research at European level but European scientists themselves, which led to the proposal to create a European Research Council. Neither is the proposed risk-sharing finance facility with the European Investment Bank a top-down initiative, but the result of extensive studies and consultations with enterprises.
'These new instruments and the corresponding increased budget for European research are not a luxury,' concluded Mr Potocnik. 'They respond to a strong need expressed by European industry itself. Strong action at European level is critical if we are serious about deepening the European Research Area and creating the 'Knowledge Europe', intricately tied to the global knowledge society, in which we and our children want to live.'