Ministers remain unconvinced by EU technology plan

04.12.06 @ 17:43

  1. By Lucia Kubosova

BRUSSELS - EU member states remain unconvinced by Brussels' outline for an European Institute of Technology, with ministers on Monday (4 December) insisting on clearer details of its financing before they give the green light to the project.

  • Brussels wants to create EU-level "knowledge communities" (Photo: Pixie.Notat)

The technology institute - a pet project of European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso aimed at pooling Europe's resources and connecting universities, research institutes and businesses – is unlikely to get clear backing by EU leaders at their 14-15 December summit.

Preparing draft conclusions for the summit, trade and industry ministers at Monday's competitiveness council urged the EU executive to "clarify the outstanding issues, in particular, the budgetary implications" of the institute.

According to sources, just as was expressed at an informal meeting of EU leaders in Lahti in October, some member states are still openly sceptical about the initiative - with Germany particularly against the idea.

Although the Finnish prime minister praised the project when speaking to the European Parliament after the Lahti summit, "Berlin has made clear it will not push forward the institute until these unclear issues are solved," diplomats told EUobserver.

Meanwhile the draft conclusions for the forthcoming December summit - seen by EUobserver - suggest that member states and MEPs "should act rapidly" to work on the commission's proposal concerning the institute.

But the ball is now firmly back in the commission's court as member states have asked for more clarification, while stating the council [member states] will "endeavour to conclude the discussions on the proposal... in good time with a view to having the EIT operational as soon as possible in the context of the Lisbon [economic reform] process."

Under a draft plan put forward in early October, the commission foresees a decentralised institute made up of a governing board and a set of "knowledge communities" from well established European universities and research centres which would award master and doctoral degrees.

Its governing board should consist of "highly esteemed and trusted people" and be tasked to call for proposals on concrete research and technology projects - mainly on energy, environment, computer science or nanotechnology - and choose those which would be co-financed and monitored by the EIT.

The commission envisages joint ventures between the private and public sectors to fund the chosen projects, but reports about businesses' lack of interest in the idea have sparked fears about its feasibility.

For its part, Brussels favours an initial financial injection of €2.4 billion from the common coffers until 2013 to kickstart the initiative and believes that once set up and working, the institute will see more money coming in.

If the scheme is approved next year, the first one to two "knowledge communities" could be running in 2009 or 2010.