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E.U. Commission Beefs Up Research Partnerships With Industry

Betting on business. Research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn announced new plans for the European Union's Joint Technology Initiatives on Wednesday.


BRUSSELS—The European Commission wants to double the amount of public money available for five research programs with industry, known as Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs). Together, they will receive €6.44 billion from the European Union budget between 2014 and 2020, up from €3.12 billion in 2007 to 2013, research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn announced here on Wednesday. The deal is part of the European Union's new Innovation Investment Package.

JTIs are large programs that provide public support to private research and innovation, with industry matching E.U. funding. They bring together academia, research organizations, and competing businesses in research areas considered complex or risky, such as aeronautics or pharmaceuticals. Each JTI has a distinct governance structure and designs its own research agenda.

Set up around 2007, the initiatives have been slammed for having complex rules and procedures, but the funding boost is a testament to the participants' overall satisfaction with this collaborative model. Industry has said that it will put about €10 billion on the table, either in cash or in kind, for the next 7 years—up from €4.66 billion in the current period. Geoghegan-Quinn told reporters that she, together with digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes and commission president José Manuel Barroso, had personally "eyeballed" the CEOs of the companies involved, and that their commitment was rock-solid.

After some teething issues, future incarnations will be more ambitious, cut down on red tape, and align disparate rules, a commission spokesman says. The commission is also eager to dispel the idea that JTIs are closed clubs, serving the interests of select companies at the detriment of academia or smaller businesses. "There is … a need to provide more clarity on how JTIs are established, to equip them with clearer objectives and to ensure greater openness towards new participants," the commission wrote in a policy document released on 10 July.

The commission's new research funding program, which will run from 2014 to 2020 under the name Horizon 2020, will continue three existing JTIs: Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, which aims to develop clean technologies for energy transport and storage; Clean Sky, for the development of cleaner aircraft; and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a JTI aimed at speeding up drug development. IMI2 has set itself specific targets, including creating two new medicines—for instance, antibiotics or treatments against Alzheimer's disease.

"From IMI, we learned to work together as an industry," says Peter Andersen, chair of the research directors' group at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), which provides the industry contribution to the program. Countries outside the European Union are "envious" of IMI's success, he adds, and Japan has recently set up a similar program.

In addition to the three existing partnerships, two overlapping JTIs for so-called embedded systems (ARTEMIS) and nanoelectronics (ENIAC) will be merged into one program for electronic components and systems. Lastly, the commission will set up a new initiative to develop industrial products based on nonpetroleum, natural resources.

Beefing up JTIs is "a step in the right direction" to make Europe's industry more competitive, says Horst Soboll, former research director at German carmaker Daimler. But it remains to be seen if the rules will really be simplified, says Soboll, who co-founded the ARTEMIS partnership. The partnerships are "inherently" complex because they bring together different funding pots—in particular ARTEMIS and ENIAC, which also receive funding from E.U. member states. "Everybody wants to simplify, but it's not so easy," Soboll says.

The commission will release a detailed legal proposal early next week. The plans must then be signed off on by the European Parliament and member states before the programs are rolled out next year.