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Photonics enabling the economy: from factories of the future to better broadband

European Commission - SPEECH/14/258   28/03/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Neelie KROES

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

Photonics enabling the economy: from factories of the future to better broadband

Photonics21 2014 Annual Meeting

Brussels, 28 March 2014

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I'm delighted to be here once again. Over the last 4 years I have come to know the world of European photonics very well.

We all agree how important this world is. Since the laser was invented over half a century ago, we have learned to master light and its properties. An extremely powerful tool, with many applications: from communicating vast quantities of information, to ultra-precise manufacturing, to detecting diseases at an early stage.

I've also got to know you, the experts in this field, and learned what matters for you.

Researchers passionate to make new discoveries. Companies – often very small ones — developing and delivering brilliant ideas, bringing them onto the market to create new opportunities and jobs. Mentors who want to share their enthusiasm with younger people.

In 2005, Photonics 21 had just 250 members; now it has over 2000. Organised, dynamic, committed. You have developed a shared vision, a shared strategy, underpinning the support the EU provided through FP7 investment.

Now you have built on that, with a public private partnership. Congratulations.

Politicians often talk of an "industrial strategy " – of targeted public action to support particularly industrial sectors.

And it is clear to me that there are sectors where an industrial strategy makes a lot of sense.

Lighting is a good example. Something on which we recently consulted.

On the one hand we have significant research that can lead to greener, better products. On the other, the EU sets clear policies and targets on energy efficiency. And we have new innovations that could connect entire grids to the internet. By joining up, we can ensure that these developments all take account of each other.

This is a good example of the "innovation triangle". Citizens, scientists, and public policymakers working together. So that scientists are not just tackling questions of mere academic interest; but fixing real-world problems. Research that doesn't stay locked in a lab; but that leads to innovation in the market and an impact on lives.

"Citizen Science" lets people have an active role across the research process: from setting goals, to contributing to analysis, to ensuring results are applied to the right challenges. And the right framework can enable research that is open, collaborative and relevant – with the greatest possible impact on the ground – open, digital science.

That is something worth bearing in mind in any field. But certainly in one as important as Photonics.

Photonics is itself a significant sector – but with a global market of 350 billion euro, growing to over 600 billion by 2020, and with Europe's share at almost 20%.

But it is not just that photonics is itself a large and growing sector. It is that it stimulates and enables growth across the economy.

It is not just that photonics is itself innovative, but that it enables innovation across the economy.

It is not just a way to spend public money – it is that targeted action can link up the value chain. And bring a growth boost to more than repay the investment.

The public private partnership we have set up together is a powerful opportunity to make a difference. Now we need to make it happen.

And deal with the challenges ahead. Challenges for your sector are challenges for the whole economy. So let's work on them together.

First, working with other sectors – like healthcare, or telecoms – for innovations that make a difference on the ground.

Second, working with other sources of financing, like EU Structural and Investment Funds.

Third, working with younger people, and those who can train them, to ensure you have the skills you need for tomorrow – and that's what our grand coalition for digital jobs is all about.

The message is sinking in about photonics and its significance. It is a Key Enabling Technology for Europe. We've recognised it in the EU's Horizon 2020 programme. It's increasingly seen at national level. And now the United Nations named 2015 the international year of light and light-based technologies.

It's a good sign, and testament to your hard work.

But if any industrial strategy is to pay off: excellent tech isn't enough; good ideas aren't enough. It is about innovation. Ideas need to become real products on real markets. Products that meet real business needs. Applications that have the power to change our lives for the better.

The ACTPHAST initiative is a great example of how to innovate in this sector – an incubator driven by business needs. Ensuring smaller companies get the competitive boost they need from your work. We need more like this. And you will hear more about it later today.

I know that research and innovation sometimes involve risks. Indeed: that is what it is all about. But public support can help you share those risks.

Then you can take the steps you need to enable innovation. Energise our economy. Empower our society. That is why you deserve our attention and support.

The Public Private Partnership now in place is a big development, a big achievement and the result of much hard work. A strong collaboration between the EU and the sector. An investment in our economic future.

So well done again. Never forget this is not just about your own companies and your own sector - what you are doing changes the lives of every European. From factories of the future to better broadband.

We have the tools. We have the ambition. And now we need to deliver results. I look forward to seeing those – and I have every confidence in you.

Thank you.


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