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Steel Tomorrow

Address of Commissioner Philippe Busquin
Dunkirk 31 October 2000

The birth of ECSC research

Fifty years ago our predecessors had a brilliant insight. They realised that lasting peace could not be reached without providing the foundations of collective well-being calling for joint commitment and work. In 1951, six years after the end of hostilities, six European countries signed the ECSC Treaty in Paris, which established de facto solidarity between France and Germany. This European Community was to promote the modernisation of production and to facilitate international trade in coal and steel, basic products for all industrial activity at that time. A daring social policy on a European scale, giving equal rights and opportunities to all the workers, was also adopted. These industrial pillars were accompanied by research concerning both innovation in manufacturing processes and products, and the environment, health and workers' safety.

Fifty years of trade and collaboration contributed to creating this European spirit which grew with the Treaty of Rome and thus made it possible to constitute the European Economic Community and Euratom, as well as the successive Treaties. The sharing of common values, collaboration and solidarity, which were initiated in the community of miners and steel-makers, extended to many other sectors, becoming the pillars of economic union and the single currency while awaiting even more ambitious steps. Within the European Union, the instruments developed by the ECSC were widened, strengthened and supplemented by implementing new tools for the promotion of research and innovation in other fields of human endeavour, such as aeronautics, transport and communications, in which the iron and steel industry and its partners have an important role to play.

The role of ECSC research and its impact on industry
The ECSC's steel research gave its support to the European steel industry and proved its relevance and its profitability. According to a study carried out by external experts, it would seem that each euro spent on research into "iron and steel methods", generated approximately 22 euros in economic return, falling to 13 euros/euro spent if one adds the euros spent by industry (in general 40% of the project cost). Regardless of the value of this figure, it is important to stress the vital role of research in technical innovations carried out the last few decades. It is not unreasonable to suppose that without the support of the ECSC, some research would not have been undertaken, even if this contribution today represents barely 15% of the money spent on research by the European iron and steel industry. Through a major network made up by the advisory committee and 17 technical committees, this research has created a framework for encouraging the development of contacts with the industrial world. Thanks to this network, Community research has been able to play a catalytic role in the activities undertaken by the various industries and thus to ensure rapid application of the results of research for the benefit of all the participants.

This collaboration was extremely beneficial for the European iron and steel industry and its equipment suppliers. It was successfully associated with the major technical changes in steel production. Research has allowed a very significant reduction in energy consumption, pollution and the cost of the products manufactured, while improving working conditions and worker safety. The continuity of the research effort over a very long period has simultaneously allowed the progressive improvement of products and processes, and the discovery of radically innovative technology. The few examples that were presented to you today represent a sample of recent research work and show, if it were needed, the dynamism of the European iron and steel industry, which employs directly approximately 300 000 people and produces 160 million tonnes of steel annually, worth more than 70 billion euros.

The future of steel research
The ECSC Treaty, which was at the root of today's European Union, expires on 23 July 2002, leaving us the valuable heritage of research. Thanks to the will of both Member States and industry this will continue in a new context. The iron and steel industry wanted to use the significant remaining resources [of the ECSC] to constitute a fund dedicated to research. Accordingly, on 6 September 2000 the European Commission adopted a Communication on the expiry of the ECSC Treaty and forwarded to the Council of the European Union the draft decision on the financial consequences of the expiry of the Treaty establishing the European Coal And Steel Community. The Commission presented an overall approach according to the direction given at the European Council of Amsterdam in June 1997. The Commission proposals endeavoured to reconcile two logical approaches: namely to use the ECSC's management rules, which have proved their worth, to manage coal and steel research but the general budget rules for the income from ECSC holdings, this income being intended for a research programme in support of the coal and steel industries.

Research, to be effective and meet the needs of the citizens, has to be well planned and structured. It has to adapt constantly to the development of society and requires a permanent commitment. This is why, on 18 January 2000, the European Commission adopted the communication on a European research area initiating a wide-ranging debate on the obstacles to the correct joint use of the resources, institutions, tools and personnel involved in research in Europe and on the manners of eliminating these obstacles gradually through cooperation. The European Council of Lisbon recognised the vital role of research by placing it firmly at the centre of the policies relating to the knowledge necessary for a revival of growth and job creation in Europe.

The European research area
The initiative on the European research area offers a new horizon to scientific and technological activity, and to research policy in Europe. Its ambition is to create the necessary conditions for increasing the impact of European research efforts, by strengthening the consistency of the activities and research policies followed in Europe. This requires a strengthening of the public and private research efforts in the Union, and also of the coordination of Member States' research efforts, both among themselves and with those of the Union. One of the objectives of the initiative on the European research area aims at improving the performance of European research, in particular by the networking and coordinated implementation of national programmes. The characteristics of the ECSC steel programme make it a good example of this.

Knowledge forms the basis for the competitiveness of any industry and particularly of heavy industry. It contributes to developing new products with higher added value and thus to generating new jobs.

Research is called to play a more central role in the economy and in European society. Science has to serve the citizen and to take into account the needs of society today … and tomorrow. In the new economy, knowledge goes together with capital, and research carries in it the germ of the future we want for all our people: prosperous, fair and based on common interests, objectives and standards.

French version

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