The history of quantum physics and mechanics is well-rooted in Europe; in 1999 the European Union was the first to launch a research programme on quantum information processing and communications, recognising the excellence of its scientists (such as Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and Marie Curie) as well as the market potential of the field.
After almost 20 years of supporting quantum research, investing more than €550 million, the EU can now exploit the quantum phenomena in a growing number of areas, from computing and simulation to measuring & sensing and communications.
Now we are taking quantum research to another level, with the launch on 29 October 2018 of the EU’s Quantum Flagship initiative, a group of 20 EU-funded research projects bringing together scientists and industrialists. The focus is very much on practical applications of quantum technologies, with more than a third of participants coming from industry, half of which are SMEs.
The aim of the initiative is for Europe to become the home to a world-class quantum industry, to make the fullest use of quantum technologies, to accelerate their development and to bring these technologies to the market. With investment of €1 billion over a decade, the initiative will turn Europe's already excellent quantum research results into real market leadership.
Where will quantum technology be used?
Quantum is no longer a curiosity; it is becoming mainstream. There are many practical applications of quantum technology, which could eventually replace many of the current technologies used in everyday life. Probably the best-known examples are atomic clocks, which are already widely used both for time standards and navigation systems. But the latest advances in quantum technologies open the door for miniaturised and ultra-precise clocks (capable of running for 15 billion years without losing a single one) which have a multitude of uses - as components in smart energy grids, for example, or to timestamp financial transactions.
Another area where quantum technologies will play a major role in the future is in communications. Data is the lifeblood of the digital economy of the European Union, and making sure it is safe and secure is vital: using quantum technologies will mean more secure telecommunication networks, ensuring the long-term secrecy of our digital data.
If Europe truly wants to lead this technological revolution, we must set common objectives and coordinate our efforts. The flagship initiative is the first example of a truly coherent pan-European strategy for quantum technologies, and builds on earlier initiatives such as QuantERA, which involved more than 20 Member States and the Commission.
We will continue to support quantum technologies in the next multi-annual financial framework for 2021-27 as part of the Digital Europe and Horizon Europe Programmes. This will include projects focused on the development of supercomputers and a quantum communication infrastructure across the continent.