Brussels, 11 March 2008
The European Commission has decided not to raise any objections under the EC Treaty state aid rules to the financial aid of €99 million granted by France to the QUAERO research and development (R&D) programme. QUAERO, which involves a consortium of 23 partners headed by the Thomson group, is concerned with the automatic processing of digital multimedia content.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "The objective of the QUAERO project is to improve key technologies for processing digital multimedia content. We are confident that the positive contribution the programme will make to European research will outweigh any distortion of competition caused by the aid."
The QUAERO R&D programme will represent a total cost of €199 million over five years. It will focus on technologies for the automatic processing of words, language, music, images and video. QUAERO will create new or much higher-performing solutions for carrying out automatic searches and interpreting digital multimedia and multilingual information in various different formats.
The programme is being coordinated by the Thomson group, a world player in the field of image technologies. Several French and German subsidiaries of the Group are collaborating with 22 other partners. QUAERO will ultimately enable Thomson to enhance its commercial range of Internet protocol audiovisual content distribution platforms (IP-TV, video on demand, etc.) and of digital multimedia content management systems. The clients targeted by Thomson are chiefly IP network operators, content distributors and film production studios.
On 19 April 2006 the programme was selected by the former French Industrial Innovation Agency, which on 1 January 2008 merged with OSEO, a French public body which finances and supports small and medium-sized enterprises. The Industrial Innovation Agency's aid scheme had been authorised by the Commission on 19 July 2006 subject to the requirement that aid under the scheme that exceeds certain thresholds must be notified individually to the Commission (see IP/06/1020). On 10 August 2007 France therefore notified its intention to grant aid of €99 million to the QUAERO programme.
Following an in-depth examination, the Commission takes the view that the measure meets the conditions set out in the Community framework for state aid for R&D and innovation (see IP/06/1600). In particular, it considers that QUAERO brings positive externalities for the Community as a whole. But the implementation of the project is not spontaneously underpinned by the market owing to divergent interests within the consortium and to uncertainties regarding the project's chances of success. Furthermore, in the Commission's opinion, any distortions in competition produced by the aid should be limited since Thomson should not acquire any market power and its competitors are expected to maintain their investments in R&D. The support of the Industrial Innovation Agency is therefore an appropriate means of encouraging Thomson and its partners to manage the QUAERO programme.
The programme was launched as part of the work carried out by the Franco-German "economic cooperation" task force, which was set up by the German and French Economic Affairs Ministers on 26 October 2004, specifically by the "research and innovation" sub-group. Since the field covered is extensive and given the differing perception by the two consortia of the thematic priorities, it was decided to launch two independent programmes, QUAERO and THESEUS. QUAERO has retained the Franco-German dimension in that the programme involves German research enterprises and bodies aided by France. In addition, the teams of the QUAERO and THESEUS programmes have agreed to maintain a consultation structure and to collaborate on a case-by-case basis when the opportunity arises. The Commission approved the aid scheme set up by Germany on 17 July 2007 to support the THESEUS programme (see IP/07/1136).
The non-confidential version of today's decision will be made available under case number N 469/2007 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. The electronic newsletter State Aid Weekly e-News lists the most recent decisions on state aid published in the Official Journal and on the website.