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Industry welcomes EIT proposal, but calls for clarity on some 'burning' issues

EUROCHAMBRES, the association of European chambers of commerce and industry, has applauded the European Commission's proposal for establishing a European Institute for Technology (EIT), but has called for some 'burning' questions on its implementation to be addressed.

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EUROCHAMBRES, the association of European chambers of commerce and industry, has applauded the European Commission's proposal for establishing a European Institute for Technology (EIT), but has called for some 'burning' questions on its implementation to be addressed.

Presented by Commission President José Manuel Barroso on 18 October, the proposal foresees a combined bottom-up/top-down structure involving a network of Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) in universities, research organisations and businesses, the overall priorities of which would be set by a governing board.

EUROCHAMBRES, which claims over 17 million member companies across Europe, welcomed the proposal, calling it a 'symbol of integration of research, education, and entrepreneurship'. However, it identified four areas which it says need further clarification from the Commission. The first is on how the Commission intends to attract private investment - just one of the sources of funding proposed, which is estimated at €2.4 billion for the period 2008 to 2013. Funding is also expected to come from public sources.

The Commission says that it has been in regular contact with the private sector, and believes that there is a reservoir of interest in the EIT which can be tapped, including block grants to the EIT's endowment. In practice, the capacity of the EIT and the KICs to attract outside (particularly business) funding will depend on a credible business plan, the Commission says. But EUROCHAMBRES asks for more clarity on this point.

A second area where the Commission should be more specific is on the definition of 'excellence', the key criterion on which the EIT's KICs will be selected. 'Excellence must be a measurable criterion. Candidate KICs should be selected according to proven innovation capital or potential, that is capacity to create start-ups, to generate and exploit patents, and to attract private/public funding,' said Arnaldo Abruzzini, Secretary General of EUROCHAMBRES.

The Commission should also give more thought to the participation of small and medium sized enterprises in the EIT, says EUROCHAMBRES, which fears that SMEs will be missing from the KICs, especially in terms of matching the long term objectives and participating in the decision making process. 'The participation of SMEs should be encouraged via adapted participation rules, allowing maximum flexibility and low administrative burden,' urged Mr Abruzzini. 'For example, it should be easy for an SME to join a KIC along the project for a limited duration. The EIT will only be a success if it sparks innovative ideas through the whole research, teaching and business community.'

Finally, EUROCHAMBRES questions how the investment in the EIT will benefit Europe's overall economy. 'The few lucky KICs will benefit from about €2 billion, additional to existing budget lines (Structural Funds, FP7 [Seventh Framework Programme], CIP [Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme] and Lifelong Learning Programmes). This is a colossal investment,' said Mr Abruzzini, who called on Mr Barroso to go further and explain how his 'flagship' for innovation will lead to more growth and jobs for everybody.

Meanwhile UNICE, the grouping of EU industries, has also voiced its opinion on the EIT proposal in a letter to Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, which was sent prior to the informal meeting of EU's Heads of State and Government in Finland on 20 October. While giving its backing to the involvement of the private sector in setting the institute's strategy, UNICE stressed that the structure, management and topic focus of the EIT should remain free from political influence and motivation. As for funding its establishment, UNICE cautioned against using resources allocated to research or life long learning framework programmes, and other innovation-support initiatives.