EU innovation institute hosts crucial meeting amidst funding questions

José Manuel Barroso at the EIT

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, visits the EIT in September 2014. The EIT is Barroso's brainchild. [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report Innovation.

SPECIAL REPORT / The European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT)’s annual forum will seek this week to address concerns over the body’s management of its flagship Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICS).

Together with the private sector, the KICS seeks to foster manufacturing industry and entrepreneurship.

The Innoveit 2015 – EIT Innovation Forum taking place in Budapest (5th-7th May) – where the EIT is based – is designed to give researchers from the varied projects backed by the body a chance to exchange views and know-how.

This year’s meeting will be under scrutiny since it closely follows a decision last week (29 April) by the European Parliament to postpone approving the EIT’s spending of EU funds in 2013.

The decision reaffirmed strong criticism of expenditure of EU money by the EIT and other research agencies on 23 March.

MEPs from the Comittee on Budgets then refused to endorse the EIT’s 2013 budget because of a lack of transparency in payments in contracted projects and because of the use of by-invitation-only public procurement procedures.

“The EIT is a long-standing administrative and financial problem,” German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle told reporters in March.

Horizon 2020 – biggest research proogrammme

Created in 2010 and based in Budapest, the EIT has a €2.7 billion budget for the 2014-2020 period.

The EIT plays a leading role coordinating KICS. The first three – dealing with IT, sustainable energy and climate change – were launched with the establishment of the EIT in 2010. Two, dealing with health and raw materials, were introduced last year. Two further KICS for sustainable food production and high-value manufacturing industry are scheduled for launch next year.

The KICs are being touted as Europe’s “innovation factories”. They aim at building bridges between students, researchers and entrepreneurs in order to close the “knowledge triangle” and bring innovations to the real world of business.

But MEPs warned the EIT must do more to show that their EU funds for 2013 were well spent before the Parliament will approve its accounts.

An independent evaluation of the EIT’s first three years of operation, published in May 2011, demonstrated broad support for the institute’s objectives and recognised the launching of the first three KICs as a “substantial achievement”. But it pointed to “inefficiencies in the implementation” and staff who were “ill-suited to the operational role that [the EIT] was trying to forge”.

Pressure will be on the institute to clarify its value and define its role more clearly, especially since the criticism relates to the accounts for 2013, before the onset of the Commission’s new research programme Horizon 2020 in which it is taking on greater responsibilities.

>> Read: Vassiliou defends funding boost for EU’s fledgling ‘innovation factory’

Forum to highlight examples of entrepreneurship

Horizon is the biggest EU research programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020), without counting the private investment that it is hoped this money will attract.

Greater communication by the EIT and the KICs will be crucial to their success.

The forum will offer the EIT an opportunity to focus on the tangible results of the KICS. This year the body is introducing EIT Awards, designed to put the spotlight on innovators and entrepreneurs involved in KICs.

“The EIT Awards recognise new ideas that lead to new products and services and that improve our lives, societies and economies,” according to Peter Olesen, Chairman of the EIT Governing Board.

The EIT has until October this year to convince MEPs that it has improved its management of EU resources.

The centrepiece of the European Commission's efforts to foster research cooperation across the EU is the European Institute of Technology, originally modelled on the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The EIT is the brainchild of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who first pushed the idea in February 2005.

The EIT's aim is to strengthen the European 'knowledge-triangle' of research, education and technology-transfer by providing a world-class model for teaching and research partnerships between academia and business.

In December 2009, the EIT launched its first three innovation clusters – the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) – focusing on climate change, energy and information technology.

Under the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the EIT’s budget will increase significantly.

The EIT will receive €2.7 billion for 2014-2020, 3.5% of the overall EU research and innovation budget. This represents a significant increase from the initial EIT start-up budget, which was around €300 million for 2008 to 2013.

  • 5-7 May 2015: Innoveit Innovation Forum, Budapest
  • Oct. 2015: Parliament will take its final decision on the postponed EIT budget discharge.

European Institute of Innovation & Technology

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