Ministers and representatives of Eureka, the international organisation which promotes trans-European collaboration between industry, welcomed new members, inaugurated a new chairmanship and tackled pressing issues of the day at the organisation's ministerial conference in Hanover at the end of June The three new members, from Latvia, Israel and Croatia, joined Eureka after their applications were approved, bringing the number of member states up to 30 (including the European Union). The chairmanship of the organisation was handed over from Germany to Spain, Eureka's role in the European Research Area proposed by Commissioner Busquin was discussed, the Lillehammer environmental award was presented, a Eureka exhibition opened, new projects were approved and discussed, and then there was EXPO. Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, participating to represent the European Union, was still beaming after the Council's recent ratification of his communication on a European Research Area (ERA), which stresses the importance of pooling European expertise on research and technological development. 'The Council's ratification is very good,' he said. 'It adopts and confirms the concept of the ERA and the Council has given us some deadlines and a calendar to work towards. The Commission has a lot of work to do, but that's good. It's an exciting time.' Mr Busquin was very positive about the ministerial conference and praised Mrs Buhlman, the German Minister for Research and Education, for her dynamism during Germany's chairmanship of Eureka. He was also particularly pleased at the warm reception to his plans for ERA. Eureka is keen to play a key role in ERA, seeing itself as an important gateway to industry. There was a clear sense from all Eureka members, including Mr Busquin, that ERA is bigger than the EU. 'Eureka is certainly compatible with the ERA concept. The ERA is not a small thing, it covers a large area - and not just the Fifth RTD Framework programme -but also cooperation with all [RTD] organisations in Europe and the Member States. We can draw on Eureka's example. It's important to remember that Eureka is bigger than the EU Member States and so must the ERA be. Eureka certainly has a key role to play in the future.' This must come as encouraging news for Eureka members, who just last year were facing the difficult decision of whether to wind down the initiative or make a concerted effort to rejuvenate it. They took a chance, adopting what they dubbed 'the Spring scenario' and Germany, as the chair, threw its efforts into turning the ailing organisation around. They have had some success. Eureka has seen an increase in its activities and its role in European R&D cooperation and Eureka-funded industry-driven European science and technology programmes have been widely recognised as instrumental in ensuring Europe's competitiveness in the global market. Some 164 newly generated projects were approved at the Hanover meeting, for an estimated value of 406 million euro. 'We certainly have seen a turning point in Eureka during the German presidency, but there still is a lot to do,' said Edelgard Buhlman. 'We have achieved some increase in project value and that will continue to be a focus, but we also have made steps forward in other areas, including support for SMEs and the expansion of the strategic initiatives within Eureka.' Strategic projects are key to success Members emphasised the importance of successful cross-border strategic initiatives as an illustration of the importance of ERA to encourage intra-European cooperation and access to a structured network of European research and development resources. They channelled their efforts into the launch of new strategic initiatives like the MEDEA + programme, which will continue the work of previous Eureka projects, JESSI and MEDEA. MEDEA was a leading pre-competitive R&D programme in microelectronics set up to foster the capability for early leadership in six strategically chosen fields of microelectronics technology and applications (multimedia technologies, communication technologies, automobile and traffic applications, design techniques and libraries, CMOS-based technology platforms and manufacturing technologies). 'The message from MEDEA is that European semiconductor and ICT companies are stronger together,' says Eureka. Work on MEDEA spanned four years from 1997 and involved 10,000 researchers, over 130 partners - more than half of which were SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises), nearly 2000 million euro and 53 projects and helped to power European firms into the ranks of the top ten semiconductor companies in the world. 'MEDEA helped system and semi conductor manufacturers to work together and it corresponds to [Romano] Prodi's vision of Europe. MEDEA+ will allow Eureka to become a leader system of silicon in the e-economy,' says the MEDEA project coordinator. 'Eureka has advantages because it's flexible. You can move with the speed of industry rather than with the speed of administration.' The project coordinators expect to select a first batch of projects and launch a second call for proposals before the end of this year. Focus on SMEs Eureka is also keen to promote SMEs and has pledged to help its members integrate their national initiatives for SMEs to open up internal research resources and markets to them. 'Focus in this area will be on facilitating easy access to Eureka through the use of new technology ad a committed communications campaign, while at the same time speeding up and streamlining decision making processes,' says Eureka. The role of Eureka as a valuable gateway for SMEs to ERA was also recognised by the ministerial conference. Ministers agreed that ERA is a crucial initiative for the continuing success of cooperative research in Europe and emphasised Eureka's commitment to working with the Commission and other bodies to facilitate the integration of Europe's research resources. 'We've tried to launch new strategic projects like MEDEA and LOGCHAIN [a project that addresses the need for improved European freight transport system],' says Karsten Brenner, the exiting German chair of Eureka. This is a strategic, bottom up, project that wonderfully fits the priorities of the EU. Eureka is one gateway to ERA. I see four. Firstly, framework through the Commission, secondly Eureka for industrial collaboration, COST for basic research and fourthly the national research programmes.' The incoming Head of the chair office for the Spanish chairmanship, Javier Ponce Marinez also sees Eureka playing a key role in ERA. 'A research area cannot forget companies, industries and the market environment. We think Eureka has a lot to say on this theme. We have to think more about an ERA. ERA is bigger than the EU. We have to think how the ERA is considered outside Europe. 'We want to define new global scenarios for Eureka. We want to open Eureka up to cooperation outside, focusing particularly on generating technologies and those able to assimilate European technology and we want to focus Eureka more from product-based to the service sector. We propose a model of tourism and leisure and will focus on this particularly in November.' To underpin all of this, the Spanish plan to concentrate on the continued improvement and management of Eureka. 'Maybe we are too ambitious. But we prefer to set our goals high, we're in a new era and we have to move on.' Presenting Spain's objectives on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, Mr Arturo González made it plain he believes he has a tough act to follow. 'The challenge that we are facing is to continue the work Germany is doing to revitalise Eureka,' he said to Minister Buhlman when she handed him the baton of chairmanship of Eureka. Tea for two years Delegates at the meeting agreed Eureka's plans are ambitious, but not too high. Representing the UK Department of Trade and Industry and Eureka members in the UK, Mr Graham Crewe explained, 'The goals are set by industry. It's up to them to make Eureka work for them. I don't think it's a thing you can switch on over night. But medium sized companies are the power house innovators. Smaller companies haven't got the financial clout to drive the market. Medium sized companies have better access. But Eureka is about getting rivals to collaborate, just look at the tea cups project,' he said pointing to one of the projects showcased in 'Eureka's Treasures' exhibition which opened during the Ministerial meeting. The TEA CUP project developed a process to mechanise manufacturing tea cups and mugs, finally eliminating the laborious process of having to attach handles and legs to tea cups by hand. 'The ministers like this exhibition because it shows them where their money is going. But it also shows just what can be achieved when European expertise is combined. The tea cups project is a prime example.' 'British firms were trying to solve the problem for ten years before a French company suggested this new method,' explained Mr Crewe. 'Together they found a solution in two years.' Mr Richard Escritt, Director of the Research Directorate-General's unit for Policy coordination and strategy was also impressed with Eureka's results. 'The German presidency has done a good job. Bringing together members of Eureka is a model of how Europe will develop in the medium term.' Could Eureka be used as a guideline for what could happen in ERA? 'I think Eureka is by any standards part of the ERA, if the ERA is to look at what research is going on by different countries and multinational fora.' He also agreed that the Spanish chair is ambitious. 'The Spaniards are taking over with an energetic team and commitment which can only be good. But the real driving force [for Eureka projects] must come from industry itself.' Rivals team up The Lillehammer award winning project is a good example of how industry can collaborate with Eureka's assistance, to produce results. The Lillehammer award is given each year to a Eureka project that has delivered excellent results and has an outstanding impact on the environment. In what project coordinator Dr Claude Job describes as a 'miracle', 20 partners based in Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands teamed up in 1993 to form a consortium covering all aspects of the packaging industry. The team included major industrial competitors, who worked together on the Eureka E! 943 PACKEE project 'meeting the environmental challenges of packaging'. Under the leadership of French firm Pechiney, the partners worked towards implementing new techniques for the collection, sorting and commercial exploitation of packing materials which were technically viable as well as economically sound. They developed a cost analysis tool that will be industrialised soon as well as an automated prototype that can sort glass, the three main types of plastic, Tetrapack, aluminium and steel. They also looked at pre-treatment of used packaging materials and new applications for materials made from used packaging and studied people's attitudes to recycling. The research led to the development of several new products (sorting machines) and processes. Just one of these is the reduction in weight of an 'instant mashed potato pouch'. Some 60 collaborators were involved in reducing the packaging from 30 to 5g per packet - the equivalent of 360 lorry loads a year- with an important environmental impact. Receiving the prize on behalf of his team the Dr Job said: 'For me receiving this reward means two things: the recognition of efforts to improve the environment; and that it's possible to have broad R&D with 19 different companies from very different fields. But with common interests, we are able to join together and make progress.' New frontiers Members of Eureka now have the opportunity to collaborate with companies with common interests from even further afield now that Croatia, Latvia and Israel have joined the fold. Croatia brings expertise in medicine and biotechnology (and is particularly proud of its molecular biotechnology research) as well as information technology. Latvia is also strong in the IT field but also boasts a number of SMEs involved in chemistry and drug design. Israel's main strengths are in the general fields of electronic software and telecommunications. Pure biotechnology research is also an asset, but there are no large Israeli pharmaceutical companies. 'This is where we could collaborate with Eureka partners,' says Mr Azi Hernar from the Israeli Ministry of Industry. 'We've been trying to cooperate with Europe for many years. From 1992 we've been working with Eureka and the EU. We are a small country whose aim is improving the quality of life through high technology jobs. For such an economy, its very important to have international cooperation with many activities with the knowledge based new economy and the basic knowledge of the academic community.' This is a point all members of Eureka seem to agree on, confirmed by Minister Buhlman before handing the reigns of Eureka over to her Spanish counterpart. 'Since taking over the chair we've done all we can to revitalise Eureka. Over 160 new projects with 30 sub projects have been launched. We've all agreed that this increase must be maintained. In the future Eureka will continue to be an important tool for market driven research. We want to be on an equal footing with the USA and Asia, it's the only way to flourish and be competitive.' Eureka is also important for paving the way for European enlargement because of its many members outside of the EU, she added. The next step Commissioner Busquin will present the five year assessment of the Commission's RTD Framework programmes in July. The Commission is also now considering ways to free up funds for genomics research which, while not overlooked by framework, is not given as much as current developments require. Since asking for funds in excess of the current budget for RTD expenditure would take too long, the Commission will need to seek a positive opinion from the Life Sciences programme committee in order to redirect funds. 'The Commission services are looking into various options. trying to adjust to a need without engaging in too much bureaucratic red tape,' says a Commission spokesperson. Busquin will present a number of communications related to the specific aspects of the ERA to the Council on November 16. 'Commissioner Busquin wants to arrive at the Council with something concrete in his hands,' said the official.