Council rubber stamps private-public partnerships in biomass, air, energy, electronics, medicine

Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas and Estonia's Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi. ECOFIN, 6 May. [EU Council]

The European Council Tuesday (5 May), approved the roll out of a series of public private partnerships worth up to €22 billion over the next seven years.

The partnerships between the European Union and consortiums of large businesses are targeted at sectors facing “major societal challenges.” They are part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 new €80 billion research and innovation programme for 2014-2020.

Five of them are “joint technology initiatives” to fund large scale, longer-term, riskier research. They will encourage businesses, working with universities, laboratories, SMEs and other organisations, to research riskier new ideas, which, it is hoped, will create economic growth and jobs.  

While a bio-based partnership is new, the other four initiatives are revamped versions of previous partnerships. Lawmakers made changes to details of governance and some methods used to improve efficiency. 

The five are in the fields of:

  • Bio-based industries. Research into ways of turning biomass and waste into fuel, feed, chemical or materials with a view to replacing fossil fuels and helping rural development (website here
  • Aeronautics. The second version of the Clean Sky initiative to reduce the environmental harm caused in the next generation of aircraft  
  • Electronics. The revamped drive to encourage innovation in electronic components and systems and help new inventions to reach the market more quickly (more here
  • Fuel cells and hydrogen. Supporting research into commercially viable, clean methods of using hydrogen to transport energy and fuel cells to convert energy (more
  • Medicine. Research into new diagnostics and treatments under the second Innovative Medicine Initiative programme (IMI2) (here)

Member states are expected to formally adopt related partnerships on rail transport and air traffic management worth an additional €2 billion in the coming weeks.

The partnerships set out commitments and objectives that must be achieved over the seven years. They will establish their research and innovation agendas and fund projects through competitive calls for proposals.

Joining together the private sector and the public administrations of the EU and its member states will deliver results that individual countries working alone would be unlikely to achieve, the council said.

Another four partnerships are voluntary programmes for member states who wish to pool their resources.

The partnerships involve:

  • a programme to help small to medium sized enterprises compete internationally (here)
  • a programme to encourage technology to help the elderly (here
  • clinical trials in Africa to help reduce the social and economic burden of poverty-related diseases (here)
  • a partnership to boost innovation and competitiveness in metrology, while addressing energy, environment and health challenges (here

The ECOFIN meeting of EU finance ministers adopted the legal texts laying the groundwork for the partnerships without discussion. Their approval followed an April agreement with the European Parliament.

Discussing the medical partnership,  Helle Aagaard, an EU policy advisor at health NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, said: "Because the research priorities of IMI2 will be guided by where the pharmaceutical industry finds it worth investing their in-kind non-monetary contributions, the programme is a missed opportunity for the EU to ensure that the €1.5 billion of taxpayers money will go into where the public health need is the greatest. 

"We are concerned that no strings are attached to the public funds to avoid that taxpayer funded research results will end up patented by industry and final products sold at prohibitively high prices making them inaccessible to all but the wealthy. "

Kuba Gogolewski, from CEE Bankwatch Network, an NGO monitoring the activities of international financial institutions, said it was” vital that the process were transparent and subject to scrutiny by civil society organisations."

John Higgins, Director General of DigitalEurope, a trade association representing the technology industry said: “We support these types of public private partnership, and particularly  the way they are constructed under Horizon 2020, because of its focus on industrial engagement and the clear desire to see ideas move swiftly from the research lab into commercial reality. This is how Europe can get a positive economic impact from its research agenda.” 

Jeroen Hardenbol, adviser in the internal market department of BusinessEurope, the EU employer’s association, said: "Public private partnerships offer better value for money, enforceable quality standards, wider choice, innovative solutions and new sources of financing. They can also support social policies and create added value through integration of public and private-sector skills, knowledge and expertise.”

Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, responsible for research, innovation and science said: “The fact that we can now launch first calls for research projects on 9 July is good news as there is a lot of work to be done. I urge businesses and academic researchers to respond to these calls – we need everyone working together on challenges like finding the next generation of antibiotics or alternatives to fossil fuels."

Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes, responsible for the digital agenda, said, “Europe must consolidate its high-tech strengths. These partnerships give us the means to work together to create jobs and keep Europe competitive.”

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for mobility and transport, said, "Extending SESAR is crucial to continue improving air traffic management. The Single European Sky and its technology arm SESAR go hand in hand to raise the performance of the sector, its efficiency and make it fit for the future.

“With an EU contribution of €585 million for the next call, we are on track to reach the objectives set in Horizon 2020 and the 2011 Transport White Paper."

Backed by the European Parliament in April, the European Council approved the legal texts needed to roll out a series of private public partnerships worth up to €22 billion over the next seven years. A new biomass partnership will be launched, along with new versions of partnerships to encourage research in air, energy, electronics and medical, as part of the Horizon 2020 programme

  • July 2014: Five of the seven partnerships launch their first call for projects.

European Commission

European Council

Subscribe to our newsletters