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28th Jul 2021

Brussels urges speedy progress on EU technology institute

EU education commissioner Jan Figel has urged European lawmakers to help speed up plans for a European Institute of Technology (EIT), aimed at limiting the research gap between the EU and leading innovators such as the US and Japan.

Speaking to MEPs in the European Parliament, Mr Figel said on Wednesday (2 May) that it was time for the initial EIT plans to reach a conclusion.

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  • EU education, training, culture and youth commissioner Jan Figel (Photo: EUobserver)

"There is a positive momentum now. Either we get it now or it's lost," he said. "[I] urge you for a more final approach towards the calendar, which we set, because there is still a lot to achieve in concrete implementation," he warned.

"If we are open-minded and bring critical contributions…then we will get more. If we don't, then we won't get more," he added, saying that the EIT would be a win-win situation for Europe.

The commissioner's comments came after EU competitiveness ministers backed a German EU presidency initiative on gradual progress towards a European Institute of Technology (EIT) at an informal meeting this weekend (27-28 April).

The ministers also called for the European Commission to quickly submit a convincing and concrete funding proposal for the institute.

European Parliament chews things over

Five different committees in the European Parliament are currently working on their opinions on a legislative proposal for the EIT, while the committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) is drafting legal amendments.

"[Germany]'s ambition is to reach a first-reading agreement with the [parliament]. However, at this point in time, the prospects of such agreement remain uncertain," one EU official told EUobserver. "MEPs' views on the EIT are dispersed."

The industry committee is expected to vote on the bill in late June, which will then be voted on by the whole parliament when it meets in Strasbourg in July. That timetable would give Portugal – the next member state to take over the rotating EU presidency – time to work on the legislative process.

Mr Figel urged MEPs in the different committees involved to stick to the schedule, noting that UK company British Petroleum (BP) recently gave a US university $500 million for research into green energy over the next ten years.

"It was not a European university but a US one," he said, stressing that the money came from a European firm. "We have the potential to create conditions at home but we have to step up [work]."

The shape of the institute

The 27 ministers agreed that the EU institute should be composed of networks of universities, research institutions and companies, which are later to develop into partnerships.

The EIT will have a two-level structure with a governing board set to choose which universities, research centres and businesses will one day form so-called Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC).

Each of the KICs will focus on a specific topic such as climate change or energy efficiency. Many participants thought that in order to establish a special EIT diploma, it will be necessary to guarantee the institute's visibility both inside and outside the EU and to attract the best researchers from across the world.

The EIT's budget for the period 2008 to 2013 is estimated at €2.4 billion, coming from the EU, the member states and industry, while an initial start-up envelope of around €308 million will come from the EU budget and is expected to be matched by the industry side.

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