The in-fighting about the funding and structure of the EU's proposed European Institute of Technology (EIT) is all too predictable after the cold response from industry and the feeling amongst many academics across the Community that it is a 'white elephant'.
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, a strong proponent of the project, will have his work cut out next week at the EU summit in Finland to get the project approved , even in its much revised format.
The main problem seems to be that academics fear it is a vanity project at taxpayers' expense. In reality, they fear the Institute proposed as a way to compete with the U.S. in leading research and which proponents see as a European rival to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would draw much needed funds away from the European Research Council, approved last year but still finding its feet through the corridors of European science and technology. Not surprisingly, there is an element of self interest involved here, since the ERC, composed of leading European research scientists, is already doing something very similar.
They are hardly likely to welcome another big, centralized structure, directing scarce research funds in another direction.
But what may seen an even bigger obstacle is the way high technology industries across Europe seem to have turned a deaf ear to the proposals to come up with funds to match those from the public purse. The word is such grand schemes have not, in the past, delivered what industry needs, and the EIT is not seen as the structure to change that.
Nor is it a surprise that haggling has broken out behind the scenes about which member state will host the EIT. To try and avert this inevitable politicking, the Commission seems to have come up with a novel idea make the Institute into a virtual University and a network of centers of excellence.
Not quite how the MIT has risen to be one of the most formidable incubators of high technology startups and a campus capable of world leading research.