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Posted: June 27, 2008
IST research in Europe: good, but could do better
(Nanowerk News) EU funding for information society technologies (IST) research under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has helped make Europe a world leader in a number of key areas, including high-speed networking and nano-electronics. Nevertheless, systemic changes are urgently needed to remove the remaining barriers to innovation which are preventing the full exploitation of research results.
This is the key message from a new report on the effectiveness of information society research under FP6. The report, entitled "Information society research and innovation: delivering results with sustained impact" (pdf download, 184 KB), was written by a panel of six experts chaired by former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho. The experts' aim was to analyse how EU research spending could be improved in order to boost Europe's competitiveness. The report was presented to the EU's Information Society Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who said it should serve as 'a wake-up call' for policy makers responsible for economic and research policy and budgetary rules.
On a positive note, the report notes that much of the IST research carried out under FP6 would probably not have happened without EU funding. Furthermore, many of the researchers brought together in these EU-funded projects have remained in close contact, forming long-lasting, pan-European networks.
In addition to high-speed networking and nano-electronics, areas where EU investments have reinforced European leadership include mobile communications, advanced robotics, quantum communications and complex systems, the report states.
'In recent years Europe's information society research has delivered encouraging results from mobile communications to electronic stability control systems in motor cars,' commented Esko Aho. 'However, I believe a systemic change in the EU's research policy is needed to avoid that EU research spending is not more than a mere drop in the ocean.'
Among other things, Mr Aho and his colleagues call for greater synergies with venture capital investment, regional innovation strategies and public procurement procedures. The experts also recommend that public-private partnerships such as the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) be consolidated.
Another recommendation concerns international research cooperation. 'If the best researchers from around the world participate in the framework programme, it will also become more attractive for the best European researchers,' the report reads.
The report recommends that participation from both developing and industrialised non-European countries be encouraged.
The experts also warn against trying to become a world leader in every area. Instead Europe should focus its research effort areas where it already has an advantage and where Europe has the opportunity to take the lead. Furthermore, the work programme should remain flexible, so that it can take into account the latest developments and challenges.
'The Aho Report has rightly concluded that the effectiveness of Europe's high-tech research is too often stifled by red tape, a lack of venture capital and a risk averse mentality in both national and European administrations,' commented Mrs Reding. 'The consequences to be drawn from the Aho Report will have to be discussed intensely by the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and also the European Commission itself under the forthcoming French Presidency.'
Mrs Reding pledged to address the issues raised by the report in a Communication to the European Parliament and Council in autumn this year.
Between 2003 and 2006, the EU invested over €4 billion in information society research; during the same period, the Member States and private companies spent some €100 billion. In the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) theme has a total budget of €9.1 billion, more than any other theme.