Neelie Kroes: Europe embracing change: looking ahead to Future and Emerging Technology Flagships


It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Today in Europe, we need to invest in future growth. And that means we need to look ahead. To have the courage to invest today, in the new ideas that could power our world tomorrow.

Today we take so much technology for granted. But imagine where we’d be without the efforts of those who’ve gone before.

Think of where we’d be without the car, or the microchip. Without the technologies themselves, without the transformation they brought to every aspect of our lives, without the amazing new possibilities they enabled. Life would be very different!

And remember that it took many people — with the vision to think differently and the patience to work tirelessly — before those ideas could become reality.

That is why we need the faith to look ahead to Future and Emerging Technology. We don’t always know where that research will lead, and we don’t always know what change it might bring.

But we do know that maybe, just maybe, it could hold the key to our future lives.

Today we mark the end of the preparatory phase for the FET Flagships. This is a good chance to look back, and a good chance to look forward.

Over the last two years or so, distinguished scientists have assembled a truly European effort behind visionary ideas. Ideas that are new and powerful: ideas that could change the whole European innovation landscape.

And just think what they could deliver.

Personalised medicine, therapy and disease prevention; or better treatment for diseases like dementia, by understanding how our mind works. Management of globally interactive systems within a hand’s reach. Powerful electronics built on entirely new foundations; autonomous smart devices to help us in everyday life; or machines capable of genuine human interaction.

Those are the kind of bold and forward-looking visions that have been developed over the last two years.

Member states first asked us to set up these Flagships back in 2009. Right from the start, it was clear that the Flagships will mean unprecedented collaboration between EU and national programmes. An unprecedented scale of ambition and support over 10 years with a unifying visionary goal. And an unwavering focus on the grand scientific and social challenges, looking at the areas that are high-risk, but high pay-off.

Cooperation; risk-taking; and looking at the big questions. These are all things we need in Europe today. These are what you, scientists and national governments, are showing us.

I want this to continue. I want us to make a link between basic research, innovation and exploitation: because by bringing the best brains together we can build a critical mass, achieve vastly bigger impact, and a much better return on research investment. A return that pays off even in the short-term.

And I want us to continue to plan together: with national ministries and funding bodies. ERA-NET is a great instrument to coordinate network national research programmes and a mechanism with proven success for Member State collaboration. Now we can use it to connect national and European research efforts at a higher level – an outstanding opportunity, in which I would encourage all to participate.

In this spirit of collaboration, I’m delighted we have here today Professor Francesco Profumo, Italian Minister for Education, Universities, and Research; and Professor Maria Elżbieta Orlowska, Polish Minister for Science and Higher Education. And Mr. António Fernando Correia de Campos, in distinguished representation of the European Parliament. Welcome, all of you.

I want to leave you with three brief thoughts, and one wider reflection.

First, congratulations to the scientists of the Flagship Pilot Actions – and the research communities behind them – for putting forward such inspiring and impressive ideas. I am confident that these will attract a lot of attention from decision-makers; and, I hope, the general public.

Second, for all of you, whether you’re in academia, industry or funding bodies, remember how valuable it can be to participate in a FET Flagship. I hope many of you see it as I do, as an immense opportunity and a mark of distinction.

And thirdly, let me hope that this transparent and sincere dialogue between national and European Institutions can continue. So that we can establish the FET Flagships in time for launch, and create a solid scheme in the framework of Horizon 2020. Indeed, I hope that the FET Flagships approach will be a significant new feature of Horizon 2020: spreading the success of FET-ICT to the other parts of the Programme.

And finally, my wider reflection on the challenges ahead.

For three years, we nurtured the flagships. Then they got older – we sent them to university – where they studied hard. They got a distinction in their science degree! And they’ve shown that they could bring us distinctions in many other subjects too – in social studies, in medicine, in engineering. And, I think, in economics.

But now the six Flagship candidates have reached maturity.

And like anyone coming of age, they need to find their own way in the world. They will have to show they can stand on their own two feet.

For the first two and a half years of the ramp-up phase, from 2013 onwards, we will support the best two with €110 million. It won’t be easy to narrow the six down to two. That’s a challenge ahead for us – and not an easy one.

But more widely, in Europe today, we face a still bigger challenge, still more important decisions.

Europe is in a difficult situation at the moment. Public money is scarce – but at the same time ensuring long-term growth is more important than ever.

So we face very real choices about how to invest in our future; about how to ensure European research stays globally competitive; about how to ensure that new developments support and boost every sector of our economy. And very real decisions: to maintain an ambitious level of research funding through Horizon 2020, to combine our resources in the smartest way; to find new ways to ensure high-European-economies of scale.

For me the answer is clear. If we are to succeed in the future, we need the courage to invest – the innovation to work together – and the willingness to do things differently. These lessons are well learned in the context of the FET Flagships: I hope they can now be applied to other areas. Here to read more.

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