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Surface transport features at European Technology Platforms conference

Over 500 participants, representing industry, the research community and policy makers, converged on Vienna on 4-5 May 2006 for a conference on European Technology Platforms (ETPs). The theme of the event, organised by the Austrian presidency and the European Commission, was ‘Strengthening European competitiveness in the era of globalisation’. Highlights included presentation of the WATERBORNETP Strategic Research Agenda.

Image of full conference hall
Massive interest in Vienna

“The ETPs, although still a young initiative, have already had a major impact on European research and technological advancement,” said EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. Likening ETPs to great orchestras, he said, “Operating an ETP involves a great deal of efficient coordination and management, getting everything and everyone to work together in harmony, something we can all understand, meeting here in the great city of Mozart.”

European Technology platforms focus on strategic issues where achieving competitiveness and sustainable growth depends upon important technological advances. Led by industry, they bring together all stakeholders within a given sector to define medium- and long-term research and technological development objectives.

Key strategic partners

Image of Janez Potočnik
Janez Potočnik

“Industry is playing a leading role in the ETPs,” said Potočnik, “ensuring a real focus on important market applications. These are vital instruments for helping Europe to meet the goal of the Lisbon strategy, to become the world’s leading knowledge-based economy. The ETPs bridge the gap that has so long existed between the scientific and industrial sectors.”

They have also been key players in the development of the work programmes of the Union’s next Research Framework Programme (FP7), the main instrument for funding European R&D. “Under FP7,” explained Potočnik, “co-operative research remains our core programme, representing 60% of our proposed budget, and the ETPs have been important partners for us in the process of identifying and prioritising areas where research can make a real difference.”

Transport ETPs lead the way

The primary mission for the ETPs has been to define Strategic Research Agendas (SRAs), addressing the challenges facing the particular sectors they represent. In the transport sector, ETPs have already made major strides in that direction.

ERTRAC

The European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC) was established in 2003 and has managed to move forward with impressive speed. Its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), delivered just one year after ERTRAC’s launch, lays the groundwork for future road research and has been a major guide in the formulation of the transport work programme of the Union’s next Research Framework Programme (FP7). Major priorities include the ‘greening’ of transport, strengthening competitiveness and efficiency, and responding to the increasing demand for mobility and higher safety standards.

Speaking in Vienna, Helmut List, Chairman and CEO of AVL List and Vice-Chair of ERTRAC, said, “The challenges of globalisation are only just beginning. Today, we can look forward to tougher and tougher competition from abroad, and increasing demands for shorter time-to-market and lower production costs. To meet these challenges, we need a strong industrial and technological base, and the ETPs can help in all of these areas, with committed industrial leadership and strong agreement on a future vision for research.”

WATER BORNETP

The WATER BORNETP Technology Platform marked a major milestone at the Vienna conference, taking the occasion to present its SRA to Janez Potočnik. Launched in January 2005 in Bremen, WATER BORNETP brings together the maritime industry as represented by trade associations, the 25 EU Member States, a number of non-members, including Norway, as well as European Commission services. In February 2006, it published its views on the major challenges confronting the European maritime industry, under the title ‘Vision 2020’.

“Europe is a world maritime superpower,” said Pierre Besse, Chairman of the WATER BORNETP support group and Director of Research and Development at Bureau Veritas. “We control 40% of the world fleet and account for 40% of new construction orders, while our shipbuilders and marine equipment manufacturers have a larger turnover than their Asian counterparts. Our offshore service companies are world leaders and the list of European achievements in global maritime markets goes on and on. Our unique position is the result of a constant flow of innovation, based on a wide array of advanced European research and development projects. Implementation of the SRA will assure this position for the next 15 years.”

Michael vom Baur, Secretary of WATER BORNETP and Senior Group Management Vice-President at Aker Yards added, “We have discovered that joining forces, in particular with small and medium-sized enterprises, for research and development, is the more promising strategy rather than acting in isolation. And that is just what the Commission wanted to achieve with the creation of Technology Platforms.”

In brief, the WATER BORNETP SRA focuses on three broad themes:

  • Safe, sustainable and efficient waterborne operations;
  • Maintaining a competitive European maritime industry;
  • Managing and facilitating growth and changing trade patterns.

ERRAC

Today’s railway sector is facing major challenges, including increasing the competitiveness and attractiveness of rail transport in terms of speed, availability, comfort, punctuality and reliability. According to ERRAC Chairman Åke Wennberg of Bombardier Transportation, this means maintaining and improving environmental performance, increasing capacity, enhancing infrastructure and improving value for money to achieve a sustainable economic profile vis-à-vis the other transport modes.

ERRAC is the European Rail Research Advisory Council. Its long-term vision for the sector is laid out in the Strategic Rail Research Agenda (SRRA). First published in 2002, the SRRA posits the goal of doubling passenger volume and tripling freight by 2020 compared to 2000. Other goals include improved interoperability, better environmental and safety performance and new production methods.

According to European Commission officials, the ERRAC has been directly involved in the elaboration of the transport segment of FP7, providing crucial guidance on research priorities in the rail transport sector. ERRAC is now focused on the elaboration of a new SRRA, the ‘Rail 21 Vision’, which will fill gaps in the original SRRA and update its objectives.

From words to action

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Exhibition interest

The complete collection of active and foreseen ETPs now numbers in the dozens, covering areas ranging from transport and energy to agriculture, new materials, space applications and medicine. The Vienna conference brought together all of the existing ETPs for the first time. Importantly, this allowed participants to compare their knowledge and experiences of the ETP process. It also gave the newer ETPs a chance to learn from the best, providing ample opportunities to review approaches and practices with the likes of ERTRAC and ERRAC, and WATER BORNETP.

Parallel sessions focused on issues of particular interest, including:

  • Openness and transparency;
  • Increasing awareness of ETPs;
  • Financing;
  • The international dimension;
  • Involvement of SMEs.
Image of José Manuel Silva Rodríguez
José Manuel Silva Rodríguez

Speaking at the closing session, Andrew Dearing, Secretary-General of the European Industry research Managers Association, urged participants that now is the time to move beyond discussion. “There is a remarkable overlap between what we have been saying here and what our competitors are saying in the United States, Japan and China. We must now demonstrate that our ETPs can enable us to attract the most compelling European projects to the Framework Programme. Make no mistake; this is about competition and it is high time that we moved on to implementation.”

José Manuel Silva Rodríguez, Director-General of Research at the European Commission, congratulated all of the participants, saying, “You are all helping to focus efforts on clear European challenges. Of course, there need not be a single approach for all; each ETP will decide for itself how best to deal with its specific problems in its specific sector, but increasing interaction among you is important. This kind of exchange can help to identify areas of common, cross-platform interest, and with the ETPs playing an increasing role in the development of national, regional and European research strategies, your SRAs will have a big impact on our future plans and on our prosperity.”

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