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Posted: October 1, 2009
Nanotechnology and other key technologies lack sufficient EU support
(Nanowerk News) The EU must do more to develop and deploy key enabling technologies (KETs) such as nanotechnology, micro- and nano-electronics, advanced materials and photonics. This is the main message from a new Commission communication on the subject.
The term KETs refers to technologies that enable the development of new goods and services in a wide range of fields. For example, nanotechnology holds the promise of breakthroughs in healthcare, energy, environment and manufacturing, while micro- and nano-electronics are expected to lead to smart control systems that could revolutionise the energy, transport and space sectors, among others. And advanced materials could lead to major improvements in aerospace, transport, building and healthcare. Currently, the potential of these exciting new technologies remains largely untapped.
These technologies are all vital if the EU is to address challenges such as climate change, the ageing population, energy security and communications.
Through the communication, the Commission hopes to launch a process which will see the EU identify the KETs with the greatest potential and put in place the measures and conditions needed to support their development and eventual deployment. This is an urgent matter; other leading nations, such as China, Japan and the US, are also investing heavily in KETs.
'The EU needs a strong innovative drive to equip itself with the means needed to secure our future competitiveness and address the major societal challenges of this century,' commented GŁnter Verheugen, EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry. 'Mastering nanotechnology, micro- and nano-electronics, biotechnology, new materials and photonics means being at the cutting edge - [to] the benefit of citizens.'
The communication also sets out the obstacles hindering the further development of KETs in the EU. Topping the list is the EU's failure to fully exploit the results of research. 'As a consequence, very costly research from both public and private sources undertaken in the EU leads to commercialisation in other regions,' the communication reads.
Other problems include a poor understanding of KETs among the general public, and a lack of suitably qualified and skilled workers. Elsewhere, the Commission highlights the low levels of venture capital and private investment funding available for KETs in the EU.
On the policy front, the Commission writes: 'Individual Member State technology policies [...] often lack the synergies and benefits of economies of scale and scope that arise from more coordinated joint actions.'
The Commission puts forwards a number of suggestions to redress the situation. For example, on technology transfer it recommends that calls for proposals be designed to assure the important link between research output and industrial impact. Earlier involvement of potential customers in research and development activities could also improve technology transfer, the Commission suggests.
The EU and Member States also need to coordinate their activities better, for example through joint calls or joint programming. 'This would allow more ambitious technology policies to be developed, unlocking the benefits of economies of scale and scope and facilitating strategic alliances between European companies,' the communication states.
KETs are key to the EU's drive to tackle climate change, and the Commission writes that combining support for KETs and efforts to tackle climate change would help facilitate the financing of Europe's commitments under international climate change agreements.
In addition, the Commission highlights a number of existing policies and initiatives which Member States could use to support the development of KETs, including state aid rules, the Lead Market Initiative and the Risk Sharing Finance Facility of the European Investment Bank.
The Commission concludes by proposing the establishment of a high-level expert group, which would be given the task of drawing up a long-term pan-European strategy for KETs.