New EU Partnerships Aim to Boost Competitiveness

Article excerpt

The European Union has taken two big steps in ongoing efforts to make European research in information and communication (ICT) technologies more competitive. It has approved a huge research budget and agreed to a new, complementary plan to pool its vast resources with those from private industry and individual member states in public-private partnerships.

As part of the 7th research framework program, which runs from January 2007 to December 2013, the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U., will invest over 9 billion [euro] ($11.6 billion) in fundamental and applied ICT research, by far the largest single item in the 50.5 billion [euro] ($65.2 billion) framework budget. "By investing heavily in collaborative research, the European Commission is giving a much-needed shot in the arm to European ICT research," said E.U. commissioner for information society and media, Viviane Reding, in a speech at the end of 2006.

But perhaps as important as the multi-billion euro shot in the arm is the plan hatched by Reding and others at the European Commission to establish public-private partnerships in a move to boost European research in vital areas, such as nanoelectronics and embedded computing systems. Under the plan, technology companies and research institutes will be able to marry their own R&D investments with additional funds from the member states and the E.U. through so-called Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs).

Joint Tech Initiatives

With the JTIs, the E.U. hopes to unite and, above all, focus the region's widely fragmented R&D efforts and make more efficient use of research funding. The initiatives, which can be established as independent legal entities and accept funding from any source, are an extension of the industry-led European Technology Platforms (ETPs), which aim to build consensus around technology development strategies. While the technology platforms bring together research institutes, universities, companies and others to establish a vision of how a sector should look in the future and identify what research is needed to make that vision a reality, the technology initiatives create public-private partnerships focused on narrowly defined research projects that require funding over a longer time frame.

Underscoring their support for public-private partnerships, E.U. heads of state and government had to invoke Article 171 of the EC Treaty for the first time to allow the pooling of E.U., private and national research investments in the form of JTIs.

The first JTI, called Artemis, will focus on embedded systems, which are electronic systems built into other devices. Reding believes the Artemis initiative will sustain Europe's leading global position in the market for embedded systems. Many industries view these systems as essential building blocks for future applications.

European industry's own research investment in this field is estimated at around 15 billion [euro] ($19.4 billion) to 20 billion [euro] per year, according to the E.U. Today, nearly half of Europe's biggest companies invest in embedded systems research, and most of the top 25 European research spenders rely on embedded systems for their products and services. …