EU technology initiatives crawl one step further
After months of discussions on the legal structure and statutes, the Competitiveness Council found a majority in support of the first four Joint Technology Initiatives, which could finally be kicked off in 2008.
Nearly one year after FP7 entered into force, the first JTIs have still not been approved. The Council will, on 23 November 2007, reached a "general approach" [informal agreement on substantial elements of the legal acts] on the first four proposals, aimed at establishing ARTEMIS, ENIAC, CLEAN SKY and IMI.
Whereas the JTIs are said to be key elements of FP7, and business has repeatedly called for their quick approval, recent Presidency drafts [see ARTEMIS, ENIAC, CLEAN SKY and IMI] on the proposals suggest that member states have had a hard time agreeing on some key elements of at least the ARTEMIS proposal. In particular, concerns have been raised over the distribution of votes for public authorities and the funding of projects.
The JTIs were originally envisaged as true industry-led initiatives, in which the choice of research to be funded would be based on excellence only. However, decision rights in the ARTEMIS and ENIAC joint undertakings will be divided between industry, the Commission and the group of individual member states giving additional funding to them (Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden for ARTEMIS, and Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal for ENIAC).
This arrangement could make ARTEMIS and ENIAC vulnerable to the principle of juste retour (a proportional return on investment), a general problem with a negative effect on true European research co-operation.
CLEAN SKY and IMI are established by two parties only - the industry and the European Community as represented by the Commission. Decisions on projects to be funded could therefore be far easier to take, as voting rights will be equal between the two parties, with the Commission having, however, a veto on the use of public money.
Asked whether ARTEMIS and ENIAC can be as efficient and successful as the two other JTIs, which do not have direct member-state interference in the decisions taken, a Commission representative gave assurances that "if the Commission didn't believe they could be efficient, it would have not proposed them, of course." The Commission also said the different JTIs are not comparable, as each of them tackles an issue per se and the structure of the stakeholder community varies a lot.
At the present state of negotiations, the JTIs would be set up as Community bodies (agencies), whereas at the same time they would take the form of real public- private partnerships, with responsibilty for the management of the joint undertakings shared with industry. They would have a limited duration of 10 years, as well as a legal personality.
Announced in the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), JTIs are meant to establish long-term, public-private partnerships on specific research areas, combining private-sector investment with national and European public funding.
The novelty of these initiatives is that the research topics would be defined by industry. They also represent a move away from the traditional approach of case-by-case public funding of projects to concentrate resources on a few strategic issues, defined by industry in specific fields.
The Commission has identified six areas in which JTIs could be established: innovative medicines; embedded computing systems; aeronautics and air transport; hydrogen and fuel cells; nanoelectronics technologies 2020, and; global monitoring for environment and security.
Four of these proposals have reached the Council table after serious delays over discussions on the legal structure of JTIs:
- Innovative medicines (IMI)
- Embedded computing systems (ARTEMIS)
- Nano-electronic technologies (ENIAC)
- Aeronautics and air transport (CLEAN SKY)
The Council reached a common understanding on main elements related to the four proposals in September 2007.
"We very much hope that the European Parliament will follow the Council in reaching agreement on these proposals when it considers them in early December, so that we can have final approval before the end of the year. We can then make sure that these research programmes can be set up and working to guarantee Europe's future as a knowledge society as soon as possible," said Commissioners Viviane Reding and Janez Potočnik after the Council's agreement.
BusinessEurope, the European employers' association, has repeatedly urged the need to establish the JTIs on time. "JTIs are the industry equivalents of the European Research Council (ERC) and are set to focus on applied research. The ideas for JTIs and the ERC were put forward by the Commission at the same time, and the ERC is already up and running. We need to get the JTIs up and running as well," said Vincent McGovern.
"From a business and industry perspective, it is very important that the JTIs become the PPPs that the FP7 intended them to be. The Council has approved the Commission's proposal that the JTIs should be set up under Community law as Community bodies, while at the same time existing as real PPPs with a shared responsibility of industry in their joint management. This combination will be a complex undertaking," said BusinessEurope in a press statement.
- 23 Nov. 2007: Competitiveness Council discusses JTIs (general approach).
- Dec. 2007: Parliament should give its opinion.
- Early 2008: Council political agreement.
- 2008: First JTIs to be established.