12 Mar 2008   |   News

EIT-lite finally gets the go-ahead

It may be a cheap imitation of the original vision, but Europe’s answer to MIT goes ahead. Now wait for the wrangling on where to site it.

Commission President Barroso: welcomed the decision – though it’s not his full vision.

Finally, it happened. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology cleared its last political hurdle this week after the European Parliament gave its assent to the project

By June a governing board of 18 eminent figures principally from the worlds of science and business will be chosen, and by the end of next year two or three so-called Knowledge and Innovation Communities, or KICs, will be established with the brief to focus on the most pressing challenges facing Europe.

MEPs proposed Strasbourg, the Polish city of Wroclaw, the Hungarian capital Budapest or the Austrian capital Vienna as possible locations for the EIT's governing board and administrative centre. The 27 heads of state and government will decide at a summit in June.

More importantly, universities, corporate research labs, and institutes from all over Europe will participate in the KICs, which will be virtual communities and be set up by the governing board.

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso welcomed the European Parliament vote saying the EIT will, “Facilitate and enhance partnerships and cooperation between the worlds of business, research and higher education across the European Union, thereby helping to continue to boost jobs and growth in Europe in the future.”

Barroso thought up the EIT in 2004 with a much grander vision than that agreed this week. Originally he proposed an institute similar to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a large campus. He had to scale the plan down amid opposition from many member states of the EU, and after only a lukewarm reaction from industry.

Still ambitious

But the compromise solution is still very ambitious, argues Romana Jordan Cizelj, a centre-right member of the European Parliament. “The EIT represents excellence and the recognition of the European quality. Its network structure, together with independent communities of knowledge and innovation is a big achievement,” she said.

Once selected, the governing board will choose higher education institutions, research organisations, companies and other stakeholders to form each KIC. Every such Community must include at least three partner organisations, situated in at least two different member states and include at least one higher education institution and one private company.

Universities which take part in a KIC will be encouraged to add an EIT label to the degrees and diplomas they award.

The first two or three KICs will be selected within 18 months of the appointment of the governing board. The focus will be on strategic areas where the EU faces vital current and future challenges. These are likely to include climate change, renewable energies and the next generation of information and communication technologies.

€2.4 billion wanted

The Commission estimates that the institute will need an overall budget of €2.4 billion for the first six years, to be funded from a combination of private and public sources.

Last December the European Parliament and national governments agreed to revise the 2007–2013 budget in order to ensure funding for the EIT, hypothecating  €308.7 million from the EU budget.

Private sector funding is expected to follow, now that the political uncertainty that has dogged the project from the beginning is over.

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