LONDON European Union ministers have agreed in principle to establish a research organization to spur innovation and growth, but funding remained unresolved even as several countries jostled to host the so called "European Institute of Innovation and Technology."
At a meeting in Brussels, EU research minters also approved research initiatives worth Euros 9.3 billion ($13.8 billion) for electronics, computers, medicines and aerospace.
The projects include a Euros 3 billion effort into nanotechnology; Euros 2.7 billion for a computer project; and a Euros 1.6 billion initiative for cleaner and quieter aircraft. Companies would fund as much as 60 percent.
The Institute initiative was originally proposed two years ago by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who envisaged a Euros 2.3 billion ($3.43 billion) campus-based institute that would work in the same way as the rival Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. It was to be called the European Institute of Technology (EIT), the moniker that will still be used for the initiative.
The plan approved last Friday (Nov. 23) in Brussels is a much watered-down version of the original idea because of skepticism amongst many member states as well as the European Parliament.
Hopes that private companies would step forward with wads of cash also evaporated.
The EIT instead will have a more modest start with a budget of Euros 308.7 million covering the initial six years with three research projects into climate change, renewable energy and next generation information and communication technologies.
The Commission's initial vision of a campus institute was also altered in favor of the EIT being part of a network of universities and private research bodies.
"The EIT is expected to kick off its activities from the spring of 2008," EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said.
He acknowledged funding remained a source of concern for some states, and that a country to host the Institute has yet to be chosen, with several states keen to host it.
The nanotechnology research program is due to be 60 percent financed by companies including STMicroelectronics NV, Infineon Technologies AG and NXP BV, and 40 percent funded by the EU and national governments over six years. The computer program is supposed to be 60 percent funded by companies such as Royal Philips Electronics NV and Nokia Oyj, with the rest coming from national and EU coffers.
This and the other EU public-private partnerships in research and development are aimed at helping the bloc raise R&D spending to 3 percent of gross domestic product from 1.8 percent and bridge the gap with the U.S. and Japan. The goal is to overcome fragmentation in Europe by concentrating EU funds and enticing companies to invest more.
"We have to join forces in a specific way if we want to be competitive,'' Commissioner Potocnik said." It's a quantitative step forward.''