Brussels, 20 October 2006
Jerzy Buzek, Polish MEP and rapporteur on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) has given a ringing endorsement to the Commission's proposal on establishing a European Institute of Technology (EIT).
The proposal was presented on 18 October by Commission President José Manuel Barroso. It involves a two-tier structure - an EIT with less than 100 staff and a network of Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), and will receive funding from both public and private sources.
Professor Buzek believes the proposal largely mirrors what he foresaw in his second draft report on FP7. In particular, the MEP supports the Commission's network approach to the EIT, and the attempt to involve as little administration as possible. Professor Buzek has also campaigned for the EIT to be innovation-focused, and is happy that the proposal also adopts this approach.
'Always financing was quite a mark,' said Prof Buzek in an interview with CORDIS News. Apart from around €300 million from the Community budget that will be used to establish the Institute, money will not come from any other EU programmes. This is very important for the MEP.
'I think it's very good that they expect financial resources for this initiative from different sources, like private capital, like government and regional authorities or universities. It's something like a public-private partnership in fact, and we [in the Parliament] are also underlining public-private partnerships in such ideas,' said Professor Buzek.
On degrees, Prof Buzek said that the KICs 'should not compete in education with our universities because they're excellent. They should not even compete as a matter of fact on research because we have in our scientific institutions in Europe very good results.' Instead, the MEP favours an EIT logo on degrees obtained from the EIT, and on any joint research conducted through it. 'We must remember that the European Institute of Technology must be for innovation, for keeping research closer to innovation,' he said.
The only area in which Prof Buzek has any concerns is small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). 'Such big entities such as Knowledge and Innovation Communities would probably be difficult to tackle for SMEs,' he believes. In the MEPs original report, he saw the EIT as potentially supporting small companies, but this has not been taken up by the Commission.
Prof Buzek is not convinced that there is a desire within academia or industry for an EIT, although Mr Barroso is certainly confident that many of Europe's major companies are behind the idea. Prof Buzek does however believe that opinion is likely to change: 'We must remember, a few years ago, when the European Commission and people from the European Parliament started to talk about fundamental research and basic research, about something like the European Research Council [ERC], almost everyone was against.' Now, of course, the research community is very much behind the ERC, and eager for it to begin functioning. 'Probably in two or three years we will see how important [the EIT] is. For me it's important even today,' he says.
Prof Buzek compares the EIT to Technology Platforms, which are very popular. They bring together industry and academia with a view to formulating a common research strategy, and they built by the stakeholders themselves.. 'If the KICs are organised by stakeholders and they want to be inside it could be a very good result,' says the MEP.
Parliamentarians may also need some convincing before they approve the EIT. Two things should however help the process he believes - the fact that the EIT will not take funds away from other EU programmes, and the focus on innovation rather than education or research. MEPs may be won over further if SMEs are addressed in the proposal, and if administration costs are kept to a minimum, he believes.
The location of the Institute could also cause problems. Although Prof Buzek believes that it should be addressed at a later stage, he would like to see it situated in one of the new EU Member States. 'If we are talking about integration, true integration, not enlargement but true integration, we must shift one or two important institutions to the new Member States. Integration and enlargement are quite different things,' he says.
The MEP does not see the lack of precision within the Commission's proposal. In fact, he welcomes the opportunity that this gives interested parties to contribute to discussions, and to help shape the EIT. 'It is possible that each KIC will be built in a different way, and then we can compare, which is better,' Prof Buzek told CORDIS News. 'Now it is not defined, but this is not a weakness of the proposal,' he added.
The MEP believes that the EIT is definitely one of the answers to Europe's innovation weakness. 'It is impossible to finance innovation straight away from FP7. On the other hand, in the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, they finance innovation only, and not research. And we finance SMEs in the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. But still there's a gap between both of them. My opinion is that this Institute should work on this gap. If the KICs could develop a strategy and tools for how to fill this gap, it would be a great success.'
Further information on the EIT http:///ec.europa.eu/education/policies/e duc/eit/index_en.html
Further information on Mr Buzek, in English and Polish http://www.buzek.pl/