Brussels, May 2005
Europe's research ministers, as well as researchers themselves, have long bemoaned the lack of links and coordination between the EU's research framework programmes and Eureka, the pan-European network for market-oriented, industrial research and development. At numerous Competitiveness Council meetings, ministers have urged the Commission to address this lack of synchronisation, and this is now being done, delegates at the Eureka interparliamentary conference in The Hague in the Netherlands heard on 26 May.
Eureka is playing a prominent role in the definition of Technology Platforms and Joint Technology Initiatives, said EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik. Both feature in the Commission's proposals for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) as part of its drive to make the programme more industry-oriented.
'A lot can be learned from the Eureka clusters that have similar goals and years of experience,' Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs Laurens Jan Brinkhorst told delegates.
The second joint initiative under discussion is a specific activity in favour of research-intensive small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). This may make use of Article 169 of the Treaty, which allows for the EU to participate in national programmes. 'I very much support this initiative and I call on all of you to support it in your countries as well, including financially!' said Mr Brinkhorst.
Mr Brinkhorst made other appeals for increased financial support for European research and innovation. 'Investing in innovation means also investing n Eureka. Let's put our money where our mouths are,' he said. The minister also used strong language to suggest that now is 'do or die' time for Europe in this respect: 'We are facing a fundamental challenge: are we ready to change, or shall we stagnate?' he said.
Mr Potocnik also made an appeal for increased funds. The Commission has proposed a doubling of the EU's research budget for FP7, but this is unlikely to happen if the overall EU budget is not increased. A number of countries have indicated their reluctance to increase their contributions to the EU budget. 'Looking at recent discussions, the situation does not look very promising,' said the Commissioner. 'It comes down to choosing what kind of Europe we want: a Europe of the past that serves to redistribute existing wealth? Or a Europe of the future, that thrives on knowledge and ensures sustainable prosperity for its people. Let there be no misunderstanding: the one per cent proposal that is advocated by the group of net contributing countries to the EU would lead to a reduction of the EU budget - nine billion euro [...]. And let's not have any illusions: this reduction is unlikely to happen in agriculture or in structural funds; it will happen in the budgets that hold the key to our future, those of R&D and innovation,' Mr Potocnik warned.
While policy makers are now talking seriously about the changes that Europe needs to make if it is to remain competitive now that new competitors are emerging, sections of industry have already begun to implement changes.
Philippe Varin, the French Chief Executive of the Anglo-Dutch steel company CORUS highlighted how coal costs rose by 100 per cent, and iron ore by 71 per cent from 2004 to 2005. Meanwhile imports from lower cost producing countries rose by 60 per cent over the first quarter of 2005 compared to the same period in 2004. The sector is also under pressure to reduce its negative environmental impacts.
'So for us it is about shifting to a strong value mindset from a volume mindset. We are focusing on differentiating ourselves by achieving excellence through innovation, building our knowledge base, enhancing our skills and continuous improvement throughout our businesses,' said Mr Varin.
Innovations have included making steel packaging thinner and lighter. While a typical beverage can weighed 80g in 1960, it now weighs 20g. In automotive steels, special high strength steels can now be produced, adding additional alloy elements, with the result that car bodies can be made thinner and lighter, reducing energy consumption.
Within the industry, a European Steel Technology Platform - ULCOS - has now been established. Working together within this forum, the sector hopes to develop technologies that will reduce CO2 emissions from steel production by 50 per cent by 2050. 'It is the most extensive collaboration the sector has ever seen,' said Mr Varin.
Concluding with yet another plea for increased investment, Mr Varin said: 'For collaborative structures like this to flourish, a stable, consistent innovation policy from government, including funding facilities, is crucial. [...Continuous] innovation is crucial to the future competitiveness of European industry. The role of the European Union as a stimulator and facilitator of research on the European level is of utmost importance. While recognising the value of programmes such as Eureka, the framework programmes, and, for our industry, the Research Fund for Coal and Steel, we would like to see if commitment can be developed at EU level towards a more focused investment in result-driven programmes for innovation in order to ensure greater European competitiveness.'
For further information on Eureka, please consult the following web address: