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urope enjoys a longstanding tradition of excellence in research and technology. The breadth and diversity of sectors involved, the depth of knowledge and the quality of its researchers, engineers and technicians have allowed Europe to maintain a world leading position, producing the highest proportion of patented technology innovations as compared to its main competitors.

As the third millennium approaches, European industry and its citizens are facing ever greater challenges. Markets are becoming increasingly global in nature, new competitors are emerging and the cost of developing the complex technologies required to stay abreast of consumer demand is rising relentlessly. High level research is more and more beyond the financial and intellectual scope and capabilities of individual organisations. Co-operation is therefore a common feature of all research projects carried out under the various European programmes and schemes.

Creating the infrastructures which allow the pooling together of academic and industrial resources, combining different approaches and competences, is one effective way of contributing to the enhancement of the knowledge base essential to maintain a position of leadership.

The Thematic Networks activity within the Commission Industrial and Materials Technologies Programme provides the infrastructural support to allow synergies between Academia and Industry, between complementary activities and partners and between national and EU based Research and Development programmes to be created and exploited.

The present publication summarises the outcome of this activity three years from its implementation and highlights the networks which have been created. These could serve as kernels to widen sectoral and intrasectoral co-operation in Europe on a transnational basis.

Transnational co-operation through networks is instrumental in creating a European society where research and technological development can stimulate economic strength and stability leading to the creation of lasting employment and improving the quality of life of all European citizens. The experience gained during the Fourth Framework Programme will be put to good use in supporting and complementing the key strategic research actions which will provide the main thrust to the Fifth Framework Programme.

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Édith Cresson

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