European technology platforms (ETPs) can provide a means to foster effective public–private partnerships between the research community, industry, and policy makers in order to deliver the impetus to mobilise the research and innovation effort towards achieving a common goal. This in domains where research and technological development (RTD) has a vital role to play in addressing major economic, technological, or societal challenges – and their interplay in a sustainable-development perspective. The role of technology platforms in stimulating more effective RTD, particularly in the private sector, can contribute directly to achieving the Lisbon objectives: developing the European Research Area and increasing investment in RTD towards the 3%-of-GDP target.
In essence, an ETP is a mechanism to bring together all interested stakeholders to develop a long-term vision to address a specific challenge, create a coherent, dynamic strategy to achieve that vision, and steer the implementation of an action plan to deliver agreed programmes of activities and optimise the benefits for all parties. The elaboration and follow-up of a strategic research agenda form a crucial part of the implementation strategy: to optimise the contribution of RTD to the process. In achieving its wider goals, an ETP should, in a medium- to long-term perspective, generate sustainable competitiveness and world leadership for the EU in the field concerned, by stimulating increased and more effective investment in RTD, accelerating innovation, and eliminating the barriers to the deployment and growth of new technologies.
Criteria for the establishment of European technology platforms
Although a flexible and adaptable concept, ETPs will not be an appropriate mechanism in every sector of the economy and alternative pathways and solutions should always be investigated. For the credibility of the concept, the setting up of ETPs should be limited, in the first instance, to areas for which clear and significant benefits can be established.
The driving forces for initiating an ETP will vary according to the challenge to be addressed and the characteristics of the existing situation in the sector concerned. Even though traditional, established sectors (e.g. aero, rail, steel) will have very different characteristics and needs compared to new or emerging sectors (e.g. hydrogen, photovoltaics, plant genomics, several fields related to nanotechnology), the common thread should always be the potential strategic importance of the sector (in terms of major economic, technological or societal challenges), the EU dimension, and the importance of the role of RTD in fully achieving the potential benefits.
The main drivers likely to point towards potential candidates for an ETP include:
- the need to maintain (or regain) world leadership and enhance competitiveness in the face of stiff global competition through the generation of new RTD (e.g. several fields of information and communication technology, aero, steel)
- the need to develop and assimilate new scientific knowledge and technologies to evolve towards a paradigm shift (e.g. rail)
- the need to reconcile different policy objectives with a view to a sustainable development of the sector
- the need to renew, revive or restructure ailing industry sectors
- the need to support development of new-technology-based public goods or services with high entry barriers, uncertain profitability, but high economic and social potential (e.g. medicines for paediatric or poverty-related diseases)
- the opportunity to fulfil the potential of new technologies which hold the promise of radical change in a sector, if developed and deployed appropriately and in time. Global competition may condition, accelerate or decelerate development and deployment and will ultimately translate into a struggle for (global as well as local) markets, with consequences for the economy, employment, and social welfare (e.g. new applications of information and communication technology).
Aspects that need to be taken into account in the establishment of selection criteria are:
- the identification of a major economic, technological or societal challenge and the pivotal role that RTD can play in addressing that challenge
- the need for the mobilisation and rapprochement of stakeholders to accelerate progress and optimise the efficient use of resources, particularly where relevant knowledge and activities are fragmented between different Member States and regions. In this respect it should be shown that existing instruments and structures are not capable of achieving the desired outcome
- the current and projected levels of effort, especially in terms of R&D spending, in relation to the magnitude of the potential socio-economic benefits and the degree of disconnection between the stakeholders, which could benefit considerably from being brought together around a common vision
- the maturity of the technology or the sector in question
- the commitment of key players to contribute to the funding of the platform and become actively involved in its development and the execution of its action plan. An initiative coming from a particular sector, rather than from the European Commission, could be a good indication of commitment.
Who can participate in a European technology platform?
Whilst the precise composition of an ETP will vary according to the characteristics of the sector concerned, the principle of mobilising all interested stakeholders in an open and transparent process is paramount. The public–private partnership between the research community, industry, and policy-makers lies at the heart of an ETP, but other actors also need to be drawn into the process for optimal success.
Participation in an ETP may include, as appropriate:
- the research community – both public and private
- industry (including SMEs) – embracing the whole production and supply chain (including component, equipment and sub-system suppliers and user industries). Actors involved in technology transfer and the commercial deployment of technologies could also be involved
- public authorities – both in their roles of regulators and policy-makers and promoters and consumers of technologies. Although policy measures and related initiatives, given their strategic global dimension, may be launched at the EU level, it is obvious that the national, regional and local levels will have to be associated when they are important initiators of policy and will bear the impact of any policy measures taken by the higher-level administrations
- the financial community – banks, including the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF), venture capital, insurance, etc.
- users and consumers – involving the customer base is crucial to channel the process and optimise the benefits of an ETP. Products without markets are a waste of resources at all levels
- civil-society organisations and NGOs – to ensure that public awareness and understanding of the technologies and challenges do not lag behind developments and act as a barrier to success.
What is the expected impact of European technology platforms?
As the implementation strategy unfolds, the expected benefits of ETPs are numerous. They should:
- raise overall (EU + Member State + private) RTD investment and ensure the consistency of European efforts in the fields concerned, by showing a common vision and a consistent strategic framework at EU level for both RTD funding and deployment initiatives
- support the development and networking of regional clusters in the field and help regions
- identify and address challenges and opportunities
identify and address obstacles at EU, national and regional levels for deployment and facilitate/accelerate the market penetration of new technologies. The technology demonstration process will be an important element to facilitate the removal of these obstacles
- contribute to achieving a coherent and consistent policy and regulatory framework in the EU, taking account of both risks and benefits
- make the EU more attractive both for researchers and industrial investment. The ETP will also act as an early warning system to alert policy-makers and competitiveness forums to the changing needs of the sector and the consequences for society, for example in terms of skill shortages or infrastructure deficiencies
- increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of the technologies concerned and the policy choices necessary to maximise the benefits for all stakeholders.
For more information, including a list of European technology platforms to date