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Neelie Kroes

Vice President European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

A European Strategy for Research and Innovation in Photonics

Opening session of the Photonics21 Annual Meeting, Brussels

24th February 2011

It gives me great pleasure, to have the opportunity today of addressing the broader Photonics21 community for the first time. It is such an accomplished community, and so important to our long term future. When I think of photonics, I think of the importance of ICT research and innovation for our productivity growth. To me, your work equals higher rates of economic growth. And it is not news that we need more of that right now!

So with the people here today, if we decide to move together in the right direction, we can surely make things happen.

The role of photonics in European growth

Photonics is not completely new to me. Last September, at the ICT conference I visited the B-Phot stand where I learned about how important the innovation of SMEs is to European photonics. I also saw some of the efforts that are being made to educate school children about photonics and its use in everyday products.

These actions are very important. High Tech SMEs are key drivers of innovation in Europe and today’s youngsters will be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The role of youngsters in innovation is something in which I am personally a strong believer and. I will be intensifying my own personal engagement with young researchers and entrepreneurs in the coming months.

I was also very interested in the Large Area Light Sources project by Philips, Osram, Novaled and others. This sort of smart lighting is about more than efficiency in my view, it’s about improving life by giving us an unprecedented degree of control and choice. That will open up new markets and possibilities for all of us.

This reconfirms for me the importance of accelerating the deployment of these new lighting technologies. I hope that is clear in the Digital Agenda for Europe for which I am responsible.

There are of course many other areas where photonics is delivering the Digital Agenda and thereby transforming our world.

For example, in the internet of the future. Here photonics-based communications will create new markets and new ways of doing business by supporting huge traffic demands and highly sophisticated services.

In healthcare, photonics will allow very early and very accurate detection of diseases like cancer, sometimes even before there are any symptoms, allowing more effective and less invasive treatment. Can you imagine the joy that progress will be greeted by?

I am pleased you have addressed all of these areas, and many others in addition, in your Vision Paper.

Let me assure you, as I did the members of the High Level Group of the Key Enabling Technologies two weeks ago: I am very much aware that your community has provided strong recommendations about overcoming the barriers to innovation. Indeed, our thinking is on the same page.

Also rest assured that we will build that thinking into the funding and structure of the next research and innovation framework programme.

The need for change

The discussion of the next research framework programme comes at a critical juncture. The need for change is urgent. Europe needs growth, and the growth needs to be smart.

In the absence of any policy changes, the average projected annual growth for the EU27 from 2011-2020 will be only 1.5%.

The policy changes have started. In 2010, we have put in place a number of relevant initiatives, such as the Digital Agenda for Europe, the Innovation Union, the Integrated Industrial Policy and the Key Enabling Technologies initiative.

In all these, there is one single ambition: To create the conditions for smart growth.

Our clear consensus is that research and innovation will be the most important factors for getting Europe out of the current economic crisis and for creating jobs and improving our living standards.

Now is the time for change

Indeed, this is the opportunity for us to make important changes that will have a direct impact on European photonics and organic electronics.

That starts with increased funding for the last years of Framework Programme 7. And it continues with our Green Paper setting out major changes to EU research and innovation funding. This paper is now open for public consultation. I encourage you all to contribute.

What can I tell you now about the coming years? It is clear where the emphasis needs to:

First, on technologies which drive industrial leadership and competitiveness in Europe.

Second, on addressing major societal challenges. I am thinking of energy efficiency, healthy ageing of the population, climate change or security. This is research and innovation that serves the daily needs of our people.

Third, on simplification. We need new thinking on how to accelerate the entrepreneurial capacity and innovativeness of high tech SMEs. I want to see more bridges between potential and the resources needed for commercialisation. In other words: less paperwork, and more financial resources for state-of-the-art research, infrastructures and manufacturing capabilities.

It is not enough to do excellent research. We have seen that in the past with flat panel displays where Europe was strong in research but in the end lost most of the production to Asia. We are facing the same danger now with solid state lighting.

We need to create a market which is friendlier to innovation. The projects we will launch in solid state lighting will showcase what can be done.

Our main role at the Commission, aside from funding, will be to put the right framework conditions in place to speed up the path from lab to market.

Among others, we are looking at an EU-wide scheme for venture capital, faster setting of interoperable standards and developing and using commercial and pre-commercial public procurement to boost innovation.

Moving forward

So, in conclusion: I am convinced that research and innovation must be at the heart of new growth in Europe.

I believe that photonics is a major opportunity for Europe.

And I know that we can make it in Europe. Today, in this room, we have many of the people who can make it happen and put Europe convincingly in the lead.

But we must act together and we must be ambitious.

Let me leave you with a request, a challenge and an invitation

Firstly, I would like to ask you to continue to develop your vision paper and to be very concrete in your recommendations. How will they lead to growth, jobs or solving grand challenges such as energy efficiency and the ageing society? And how will SMEs benefits?

Let me receive your ideas for concrete actions addressing the whole research and innovation chain. In particular paying attention to the gap between know-how and innovation which some have termed a "Valley of Death" but which I prefer to refer to as a "Valley of Hope".

Secondly, let’s remember to work smart and collaboratively. More money can’t always be the answer. Rather we need to use the resources we have in a more efficient and effective way.

Thirdly, I would like to invite and even challenge you, and the European photonics industry as a whole, to consider engaging in a public-private partnership with us in the area of photonics R&I. Don't hesitate to put something concrete on the table – but be aware that this can only work on the basis of a strong commitment by all partners.

You can count on me to do my bit and to make sure photonics gets the support it needs.

But I also need you to become ambassadors for a stronger involvement of Europe – because all our countries are too small to move things on their own – and for more research and innovation. You need to convince the decision-makers in your countries that this is important. Your voice can make the difference.

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