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EU MINISTERS COOL ON TECHNOLOGY INSTITUTE PLANS

Deutsche Welle - October 1, 2006 It is seen as a necessity in Europe's struggle to compete with the United States in the field of innovation, but the proposed European Institute of Technology has few supporters in the 25-nation bloc. The European Union's attempt to close the gap in innovation and technology between itself and its main rival, the United States, was dealt another blow this week when EU ministers once again labeled the idea of a European Institute of Technology (EIT) as "unnecessary." The EU will continue to play catch up to the US in terms of investment and research on as the focus shifts towards reviving stalled EU patent talks, which are floundering on arguments over how many languages should be used and the cost of translating patents within the 25-nation bloc. Europe has suffered a "brain drain" in recent years as scientists and researchers have left the continent for better equipped and funded institutions in the United States. The creation of the EIT was seen as the bloc's answer to the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an attractive incentive for European scientists to stay within the bloc. There had even been talk of the EIT being located in the European Parliament's building in Strasbourg as a compromise in the on-going argument within the EU over the split seat of European power. With the EIT based in Strasbourg, the European parliament could be fully based in Brussels, saving the bloc a lot of money in terms of regular travel between the two sites and the upkeep of two large administration sites. EU ministers see no need for EIT While the EIT location appears an attractive option, the creation of such an institution in itself has very few supporters -- despite being part of the European Union executive's 10-point plan to boost innovation. Ministers will meet to discuss the plan at an informal summit of EU leaders next month but it is unlikely that that the shift in priority to patents will be reversed in favor of the EIT. "We don't need Europe to create a European Institute of Technology," German junior minister Joachim W├╝rmeling told a meeting of EU competitiveness ministers last week. These sentiments were echoed by Italian minister Emma Bonino. "We don't need any new structures," she said. "We would be better advised to make better use of what we have." EIT necessary for Europe's growth While EU politicians are cool on the idea of the EIT, the concept has the approval of the leaders of Europe's digital technology sector. The EICTA, the European Information and Communication Technologies Association, wrote in a recent paper that the EIT would help strengthen existing networks between the best universities, research institutes and industrial research development labs in Europe. The EICTA believes that initiatives seeking to boost Europe's performance in research and development (R&D) and innovation are much needed. "Europe's problem is less the lack of new ideas but more the transformation of new ideas into innovation and global competitiveness, the availability of financial resources including Venture Capital, the provision of research- and innovation-friendly conditions and the entrepreneurial spirit that bridges the academic and industrial world," reads the paper. EU should follow US to compete with US The paper concludes by advising the EU to actually follow the lead of the Americans to remain competitive with them. "Universities (in the US) have not achieved their strong position primarily through lavish funding or networks of cooperation over state borders," according to the document. "They excel through an open attitude to new ideas, a close cooperation with industry and an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages personal movement back and forth between universities and companies." It seems that the idea of a single institute, if the EIT is ever to be realized at all, is one neither the politicians or the industry leaders believe in. "It's already clear there will not be a European type of MIT," EU Commission Vice President G├╝nter Verheugen told a news briefing last week. "It will not have a single location. Basically it would be a networking of centers of excellence in the public and private sectors."





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