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Commission announces smart investment in green PPPs

In July 2009, the European Commission held an 'information day' aimed at encouraging prospective researchers to respond to a first round of calls for proposals that will inject €268 million in three key market areas, including road transport.

Janez Potočnik © Philippe Molitor
Janez Potočnik
© Philippe Molitor

A total of €3.2 billion has been earmarked for European public-private partnerships (PPPs) dedicated to the development of new technologies in the manufacturing, construction and automotive sectors.

Speaking at the PPP Information Day in Brussels, EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik said, "It is now recognized that investing in R&D is not a luxury when times are easy, but a necessity when times are hard. If Europe makes 'smart' investments in strategic sectors today, this will create jobs and sustainable growth tomorrow."

A special brokerage event capped the event, gathering a variety of participants interested in investing in new 'Green Car' research. András Siegler, head of the European Commission’s DG RTD Transport Directorate expressed the Commission's extreme interest in research at all levels, from fundamental academic science to full-fledged demonstrators and pre-market studies.

Getting industry back on its feet

Three PPPs constitutes an important part of the European Economic Recovery Plan announced in November 2008. They include the ‘Factories of the Future’, ‘Energy-efficient Buildings’ and ‘Green Cars’ initiatives. In a joint statement released at that time, EU officials said they believe it is important to combine short-term economic and fiscal measures in the Recovery Plan with longer-term ‘smart investments’ in research and development to lay down a strong base for the future competitiveness of European industry.

The PPPs represent close collaborations between the Commission and the industry that will foster competitiveness but also bring down Europe's excessive energy consumption and develop new and sustainable forms of road transport.

The first step for the PPPs is the publication of coordinated cross-thematic calls for research proposals, funded in part by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7). The calls will be launched officially on 30 July.

New ‘Green Cars’ measures

The PPP info day event © Philippe Molitor
Interest high
© Philippe Molitor

The European Green Cars initiative is one of the three PPPs included in the Commission's recovery package. It will make available €5 billion to boost the automotive industry in a time of economic hardship, and support the development of new, sustainable forms of road transport. Of this sum, €4 billion will be made available through loans by the European Investment Bank (EIB). The remaining €1 billion will be provided by FP7 and the private sector.

This financial support will be complimented by demand-side measures, involving regulatory action by Member States and the EU, such as the reduction of car registration taxes on low-CO 2 cars to promote their purchase.

The first four calls under the Green Cars initiative will be launched at the end of July 2009, with an overall budget of around €100 million. Funding will support the electrification of road transport and research into hybrid technologies. The Commission's Directorates-General for Research, Transport and Energy, and Information Society will each launch a call on electrification, while a joint fourth call will be aimed at the development of new electric batteries.

"These calls have been designed after thorough consultation with the industries concerned," said Potočnik. "The objective is to promote the convergence of public interest with industrial commitment and leadership in determining strategic research activities."

In the following FP7 Calls, set for 2011, topics will be broadened to include research into cleaner trucks, internal combustion engines, logistics, and intelligent transport systems. In 2011, there could also be a joint call on 'smart grid and recharging systems' that would link several Commission services.

Joining forces

"Through these innovative partnerships," said Potočnik, "the Commission and industry join forces to foster the development of clean technologies and to position Europe as a leader in this field. The early launch of the calls also proves our capacity to act together rapidly to respond to the research demands of the European Economic Recovery Plan."

Also speaking at the information day, Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, said, "Joint investment by the Commission and industry represents an important step towards a knowledge-based and low-carbon EU economy. Achieving research excellence and combining efforts are crucial for helping Europe emerge from the crisis as a strong, more sustainable and more competitive society."

Viviane Reding © Philippe Molitor
Viviane Reding
© Philippe Molitor

Reding said she believes research in information and communication technologies can play a particularly useful role in developing the tools for helping Europe's recovery and the 'greening' of its economy.

No surprise

The information day was attended by over 800 representatives from Europe's industry and research sectors, all gathered to mark the announcement of the first set of calls for proposals. The event featured a plethora of high-ranking speakers from the European Union and industry, and included in-depth presentations of call topics, roundtable discussions and brokerage events.

For his part, Potočnik was not surprised by the massive attendance. "Today is our first information day about these three new Public-Private Partnerships," he said. "I am sorry you can't all fit in this room and that some of you are watching in over-spill rooms in other parts of this building. But it is good to know that there is so much interest in the research element of the recovery package. Good to know – but not a surprise! The PPPs will set an example on how to steer the future path of the European economy towards a sustainable, knowledge-based economy. It is exactly the path we need to be on."