France, Netherlands join forces in quantum technology race

The technology could also yield huge profits, as it could generate between $450 billion and $850 billion over the next 15 to 30 years, a report published by the Boston Consulting Group in July reads. [Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock]

France and the Netherlands signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday (31 August) to intensify synergies for the research and development of quantum technologies, joining the race in building high-performance supercomputers. EURACTIV France reports.

On the sidelines of a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Paris, French Secretary of State for Digital, Cedric O, and the Dutch Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, Mona Keijzer, signed the memorandum, aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in quantum technologies.

The aim is “a European Quantum ecosystem that brings jobs, income and innovation to our countries,” said Keijzer, stressing that “the Netherlands and France have been leading the way for years.”

“In order to maintain this position in the world, it is now necessary to start working together at a European level,” the Dutch secretary of state added.

O, for his part, said “Europe is by far the world’s leading investor in quantum,” citing “national quantum plans of France, the Netherlands and other European countries, and the programs of the European Commission.”

The agreement includes more collaboration in research, greater cooperation with large tech companies, investments to develop the ecosystem, the acceleration of existing European initiatives, and the creation of jobs in the field – with the launch of a common portal for job opportunities at quantumjobs.fr and quantumjobs.nl.

First-mover advantage

Quantum computer technology is still in its infancy, with limited practical applications. However, experts define the potential impact of quantum computers as nothing short of ‘revolutionary’, with knock-on effects in the fields of health, mobility, innovation and defence, among many others.

Countries that invest in quantum computers in the early stages could therefore benefit from a first-mover advantage. The EU’s advantage in this regard could be its strong research community.

“European academic research in quantum technologies is at a very high level worldwide, and remains well distributed in European countries,” Philippe Duluc, CTO big data & security at Atos, one of France’s leading companies in the field, told EURACTIV France.

This new generation of supercomputers will overcome the constraints of classical computing by potentially allowing for many operations to be performed at the same time.

The technology could also yield huge profits, as it could generate between $450 billion and $850 billion over the next 15 to 30 years,  according to a report published by the Boston Consulting Group in July.

“This race is a marathon and not a sprint: I think it will take about 10 years before both quantum computer and quantum networks will bring real benefit to end-users,” physicist Stephanie Wehner of the Quantum Internet Alliance (QIA) told EURACTIV France. “More cooperation between member states is absolutely a step in the right direction,” she added.

Christophe Jurczak, co-founder of the Quantonation investment fund and the Le Lab quantique association, welcomed “this kind of opportunity to foster the emergence of a deep quantum ecosystem in Europe, associating academics, industry, startups, financiers, both on the technology and on the user side”.

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Keeping talent in Europe

QIA’s Wehner cautioned that “to make European champions happen, such an alliance by itself, however, is not sufficient unless it would be followed by larger and more focused funding of quantum technologies in Europe as a whole”.

“Long term efforts are just as important as short term ones,” she added, arguing for a more comprehensive strategy to encourage innovation in Europe.

According to her, this is a “real challenge” as it “crucially hinges on a change of mindset and the creation of a more entrepreneurial culture amongst young researchers”. The physicist called for including more business training in the academic curriculum of future researchers.

Jurczak echoed this call, arguing that “we need more startups to be created over the next years,” adding that “these startups need to have the capacity to be global players.” According to him, training talent and “the capacity to keep them in Europe” will also be fundamental.

The main priority for public authorities, Atos’ Duluc said, “should be to invest in the development of quantum software and applications”.

“Now that the first quantum accelerators [known as NISQ: Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum] are due to arrive in the short term, we need to think about quantum uses and applications”, Duluc added, fearing that a “lack of industrial end-users” will prevent the quantum industry to move forward.

In January, the French government presented its €1.8 billion plan to make the country one of the world’s leading powers in the field. The plan includes public and European funding, as well as projections for the private sector input.

“The national quantum plans announced in recent years make it possible to structure the public/private effort and provide real concrete content for these alliances,” noted Duluc.

This bilateral initiative, signed this week, is part of a more global European effort to foster digital sovereignty or “strategic autonomy”, in view of the American and Chinese lead in the field.

In the bloc’s Digital Compass for 2030, Brussels has set the goal for the EU to have its first quantum computer by 2025.

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[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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