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Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Towards the future at the speed of light

Photonics21 Annual meeting

Brussels, 28 March 2012

It's great to be back among you again. Last year, we met and I set out the role of Photonics in European growth. I knew then that, if we decide to move together in the right direction, we can surely make things happen. And in particular, I invited you to engage in an ambitious new public private partnership in the field of photonics. I'm delighted to say that your response to that challenge has been impressive. And there has been much fruitful activity over the course of this year.

So today I'd like to remind you, first, how photonics is an economically and socially essential part of the European Union's wider research programme. Second, how we need to help and work with the young people in particular who face gloomy employment prospects. And third, a look ahead to next steps: including on the public private partnership.

It's always a pleasure to speak to this group. Not just because you're always so welcoming. But because in the current crisis it's a pleasure to find a sector so economically vibrant. A world market of €300 billion, growing at 8% a year. An area where Europe is a major player. And an area with huge potential to power our future.

In future, photonics-based communications could, and I dare to say, will, create new markets, new ways of manufacturing, new ways of doing business.

And look beyond the economic benefits.

Solid state lighting could cut energy consumption: while making your home or workplace much more pleasant. And by the way, many thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to our recent consultation on the "Lighting the Future" Green Paper.

Meanwhile, in health care, photonics will allow cancer detection and treatment that is more effective and less invasive. Imagine the lives saved and those made more bearable.

With great statistics and stories like that, you should all be proud to be part of this achievement: I am.

But there is a wider context. I realise that these days, people question all public expenditure. But, we have to remember that research and innovation hold the key to Europe's future competitiveness: acting now pays a rich dividend in future.

That is why we proposed Horizon 2020, the next generation of research funding. And photonics is prominent in that as a key enabling technology.

I want your help. First, you can help us work on the details of implementation. We need to look further at how, for example, photonics can contribute to the wider societal challenges we are tackling, like health or smart cities.

Also, as you can imagine, this proposal is the subject of a lot of discussion with the Member States and European Parliament. But more than that, we need you to act as ambassadors. That means going out to your national governments and the MEPs who represent you – and help us make the case. Show them the great examples of the bold changes photonics has already given us and the vision of the great things it could do in the future. And explain why we need Horizon 2020 to provide that boost.

Because if you share my conviction that research and innovation will be at the heart of economic recovery, then join with me and make your voices heard. I assure you, all of those ministers, all of those MEPs, are looking for the economic good news: we have it, you have something to give to them.

And let's never forget what our main goal has to be these days. Our young people face catastrophic unemployment: we must give them hope to see beyond that horrible prospect. Dealing with this, for me, has to be the objective at the heart of all our actions.

I'm proud to have two talented young people from the field of Photonics in my own group of "Young Advisers" – Efstratios and Leontios – and I'm delighted they're both here today.

And I never forget that today's young people could be the scientists, the engineers and the entrepreneurs of the future. This is a sector able to provide employment – indeed, ICT in Europe is facing a shortage of talent, a shortage reaching 700,000 people by 2015. We need to get young people more interested in these careers. Especially, I might add, young women, who are vastly under-represented.

So it's great to see the initiatives you're taking in Photonics21 to reach out to children, including at school. We need more of that. Because we need to help these people, and stop them becoming a 'lost generation'.

Finally, let me close with a few words on the next steps: in particular, the public private partnership.

This is a major opportunity. This partnership between the public funder and industry can drive innovation. With strong commitments from all partners we can really harness the power of photonics and get the most impact from all our resources.

So I am delighted that you've made significant progress towards this goal. Thank you. I know that took a lot of effort and commitment.

What next? Well, as I said, the major issue at the moment is to agree the overall Horizon 2020 package. Of course, this is in the hands of the legislator. But I myself would hope that it is agreed by the end of this year.

Once that is done, we need to get going pretty quickly. With the right preparatory work, the PPPs themselves could be ready to launch in 2013. With first calls by the end of that year. This will be a great opportunity to work together.

So, once again, thank you to you all. And in particular to Martin Goetzeler. Martin, I am very sad to hear this is your last meeting as President of Photonics21. I would like to personally thank you for the great job you have done – I appreciate and recognise it, and I'm sure I speak for others here too. Not just all you've done for this group: but for all you've done to drive this great and formidable European sector.

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