An EU action plan for 2005-2009, defining actions for the "immediate implementation of a safe, integrated and responsible strategy for Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (N&N)", was adopted in June 2005. Its aims include fostering industrial exploitation of R&D on nanotech, working on common standards and integrating risk assessment related to human health and the environment at all stages of the life cycle of nanotech.
"While it is difficult to collect all quantitative indicators for the period 2005-2007, a positive impact can nonetheless be seen", stated the Commission's first implementation report on the EU nanosciences and nanotechnologies action plan 2005-2009, issued in September 2007.
An initial observation is that the community funding for nanotech research has increased considerably. From the €120 million available under FP4, the funding for nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) increased to €1.4 billion in FP6 (2002-2006). Some €3.5 billion is foreseen for N&N in FP7 (2007-2013).
"The Commission has become de facto the single largest public funding agency worldwide to support development of nanotechnology", said Renzo Tomellini, head of the executive's operational unit on N&N, adding that the Commission contribution represents one third of all public spending in nanotechnology in Europe.
In addition, patent applications originating from FP6 nanotech projects are said to have more than doubled in the first two years of the framework programme.
The report also shows that since 1998 some €28 million has been dedicated to projects expressly focused on research into the potential impact of nanotechnologies on health and the environment. Safety research is said to "significantly increase in FP7, both in size and scope, subject to absorption capacity".
According to the Commission, standardisation in the N&N field will have "an important role both at European and international level". The EU executive has given the European standards bodies CEN, CENELEC and ETSI a mandate to develop a nanotech standardisation programme, which would "take account of the need for a revision of existing standards or the development of new ones, in relation to health, safety and environmental protection" [see the European standards bodies report] .
In June 2008, the Commission published a Communication on regulatory aspects of nanomaterials, based on a regulatory review of legislation in relation to health, safety and environment aspects of nanomaterials. The review concludes that the current EU legislative framework "covers in principle the potential health, safety and environmental risks in relation to nanomaterials" but that current legislation "may have to be modified in the light of new information becoming available, for example as regards thresholds used in some legislation".
According to the review, nanomaterials are covered under current EU laws on:
- Chemicals, namely REACH, consisting of specific rules on the manufacture and market authorisation of substances on their own, in preparation or in articles;
- health and safety of workers, and;
- product requirements for health and safety of workers, consumers and protection of the environment:
- Groups of products: plant protection products, biocides, new approach legislation, cosmetics, aerosol dispensers, medicinal products and cars;
- food legislation: general food law, novel food, food contact materials, food additives, food supplements, feed legislation;
- General Product Safety Directive on consumer products not covered by specific regulation, and;
- environment: directives on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), major accidents (Seveso II Directive), water, waste, air quality, soil protection and environmental liability.
The EU executive has also adopted a recommendation on code of conduct for responsible nanotech research. It calls on member states to respect the precautionary principle in research on nanoscience in order to protect not only researchers but also professionals, consumers, citizens and the environment.
Future N&N challenges identified by the Commission include: the availability of interdisciplinary infrastructures of excellence, critical mass, appropriate conditions for the safe and effective use of nanotechnology, a shared understanding of the responsibility of researchers within an ethical framework, shortage of private investment in research and industrial innovation and duplication in research among individual member states.