By Melinda Rose, Senior Editor
BRUSSELS, June 28, 2012 — Europe should boost key enabling technologies (KETs), including photonics, to stimulate growth in the region and create jobs, the European Commission said Tuesday.
The commission tabled its strategy to boost the industrial production of KETs-based products, saying Europe needs an all-encompassing, long-term strategy to develop and industrially deploy KETs.
The global market in KETs, which includes micro- and nanoelectronics, advanced materials, industrial biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing systems, is forecast to grow from €646 billion (about $803 billion) to more than €1 trillion (about $1.2 trillion) between 2008 and 2015. This is an increase of more than 54 percent, or more than 8 percent of the EU's gross domestic product (GDP).
The recommendation stems from the fact that, although Europe is a global leader in KETs research and development and holds more than 30 percent of global patent applications, the European Union is not capitalizing on that with growth and jobs. KETs not only provide many jobs, but many high-quality jobs, the commission said.
Projects begin falling into the "Valley of Death" in the stage between successful science in the lab and pilot-scale industrial development, the latter being the stage at which jobs can start being created.
"The EU’s major weakness lies in translating its knowledge base into goods and services, and EU patents are, more and more, exploited outside the EU," the commission said.
The commission cited recent developments in the machine tool industry, a KETs-related area, as one reason to act quickly. The European share of global production dropped from 44 percent in 2008 to 33 percent in 2010, to the advantage of Asian competitors, namely China and Korea, it said.
The number of EU jobs in the nanotechnology industries alone is expected to increase to 400,000 by 2015, the commission said. In 2008, about 160,000 were employed in nanotechnology, a 25 percent increase since 2000.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are expected to account for the majority of future jobs. For example, in the photonics sector, the bulk of the 5000 European companies are SMEs. In Germany, about 80 percent of the nanotechnology companies are SMEs.
Photonics positively affects 10 percent of the European economy, according to an EU-commissioned study.
"Most innovative products nowadays, whether it is the smart phone or electric car, incorporate several KETs simultaneously, as single or integrated parts," said EC Vice President Antonio Tanjani, responsible for industry and entrepreneurship, at a press conference announcing the strategy. "But KETs can become a real job machine which we so dearly need today."
The commission proposes that there be an integrated approach for KETs research and innovation financing to translate the work into marketable products and economic growth. There should be a strategic approach to KETs in regional innovation financing to modernize the industrial base across Europe, and the European Investment Bank should ensure access to funding for KETs projects, the commission said. Among its other proposals are ensuring coordination of EU and national activities so they complement one another and make the best use of public resources; ensuring a level playing field in a globally competitive market through trade policies; and ensuring adequate governance structures for smooth implementation.
Under Horizon 2020, the EU’s 2014-2020 program for funding research and innovation as drivers of new growth and jobs in Europe, the EU will spend €80 billion (about $99 billion), including boosting the funding of the European Research Council by 77 percent. About €1.8 billion (approximately $2.2 billion) is proposed for photonics and nanoelectronics, and there is the possibility of launching a public-private partnership in photonics, something that also is supported by Photonics21, the European technology platform for photonics.
For more information, visit: www.photonics21.org, http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/ict/news/index_en.htm, or http://ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/index_en.cfm