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Sectors pull together at ETP Conference 2010

The ETP Conference in Brussels in May 2010 saw hundreds of representatives of industry, academia, civil society, EU member-states and the European Commission coming together for two days of focused debate on the challenges facing Europe and how to address them through research and innovation.

The ETP 2010 Conference © Peter Gutierrez
The ETP 2010 Conference
© Peter Gutierrez

The European Technology Platforms (ETPs) were originally conceived as advisory groups tasked with helping to direct future research within specific fields. In the transport sector,  ACAREexternal linkERRACexternal linkERTRACexternal link and  WATERBORNE TPexternal link, have played key roles in helping to develop the European Commission's research work programmes for the various transport modes.

Led by industry, ETPs have provided crucial frameworks for research stakeholders since the early 2000s, defining priorities, timeframes and action plans in sectors where growth, competitiveness and sustainability depend on technological advances. More recently, partnerships have been seen to develop between ETPs, creating affiliations that stretch across traditional sectoral boundaries.

"ETPs have been and continue to be invaluable in shaping our thinking," says Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. "In a constantly changing global landscape, these groups have provided much-needed direction, helping to shorten the time to market for important technology-based products and tackling regulations, making Europe a place where innovative businesses want to do business."

What are the ETPs?

European Technology Platforms focus on strategic research issues, bringing together all stakeholders within a given sector to define medium- and long-term research and technological development objectives.

The primary mission for the ETPs has been to define Strategic Research Agendas (SRAs), addressing the challenges facing the particular sectors they represent.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn
© Peter Gutierrez

Speaking at the ETP Conference in Brussels, Geoghegan-Quinn explained how the Commission is putting research and innovation at the core of its new approach to major societal challenges. "We are facing a number of problems today," she said, "including climate change, energy issues, globalisation and the aging of our population. But these challenges also represent opportunities. With the help of industry, we will simplify our procedures, we will continue to develop strategic partnerships, and we will create new technologies that answer specific societal needs while responding to significant market opportunities."

Expanding the goals

For many of the conference speakers, ETPs can play a central role in tackling real challenges. MEP Herbert Reul, Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), said, "The ETPs have already done a lot to advance the cause of research and innovation in Europe. But by coming together, working in co-operation with each other, they can go beyond their Strategic Research Agendas to deliver "innovation agendas".

A model of co-operation

Under the European Green Cars Initiative, electrification of road vehicles is a clear priority, but essential to the technical work is strong coordination. Three ETPs – ERTRAC,  EPoSSexternal link and  SmartGridsexternal link – are now working together, issuing recommendations to help Europe seize the potential of electrified mobility for climate and resource protection, and creating opportunities for Europe’s automotive and energy industries.

For Françoise Le Bail, Deputy Director-General at the Commission's Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, research and innovation have to be targeted. "EU businesses underinvest in research and innovation. We are lagging far behind our major competitors, the United States and Japan, and China is quickly catching up with us. With tight constraints on public expenditure and new environmental regulations and standards, we have to find new ways to help our companies to bring research results to market."

Part of the solution, she said, is to support strategic co-operative initiatives."Market-oriented partnerships that are concerned not just with the supply side but also with the demand side are now necessary. Today, companies see low cost as the main factor in winning public contracts. We can change this. We can boost the importance of innovation in the public procurement process, thereby pushing European companies to push innovation."

Research for a reason

Again, the ETPs can play a role, as Horst Sobell, Chairman of the ETP Expert Group explains. "The ETPs were originally conceived as a discussion platforms concerned with the elaboration of Strategic Research Agendas. But with innovation now at the core of the Union's 2020 action plan, the ETPs are moving together, just as we see here today the Commission's Research DG and Enterprise DG sharing the stage."

More than ever, research needs to be justifiable to the European citizen, said Sobell. And that means it has to serve some end. It has to lead to an improvement in economic terms or in terms of quality of life. But research also has to make sense in business terms, giving industry a clear incentive to invest in new technologies and innovative ideas. The ETPs are still well placed to move this sort of agenda forward, he said.

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