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The Governing Board of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) held its inaugural meeting in Budapest, Hungary on 15 September and selected Professor Martin Schuurmans, professor of physics and former Executive Vice-President of Philips Research, as its Chairman. Four members of an executive committee were also elected.
The EIT, based in Budapest, is the centrepiece of the EU's scientific innovation strategy and has received initial funding of around €300 million. Its objective is to foster excellence in European innovation by pooling the expertise of universities, research bodies and businesses.
The meeting was opened by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. Also in attendance were the Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Ján Figel', the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Jósef Pálinkás, the Vice President of the European Parliament, Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, the Minister of Higher Education and Research and representative of the French Presidency, Valérie Pécresse, as well as the Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Mr László Kovács.
In his opening remarks, Mr Barroso commented, 'The EIT builds capacity in the participating institutions. [...] It will evolve with the needs of the economy and society. It will create new connections and spark new ideas. It will make bets on innovative technologies and projects. Not all of these will pay off - but that element of risk is essential to success.'
Mr Barroso expressed his hopes that the EIT will become 'a reference model for the modernisation of research organisations in Europe', inspiring 'existing but fragmented innovation actors to go beyond existing collaboration networks and create truly integrated partnerships'.
'A culture of openness can itself foster innovation,' he said. 'Europe, like the world at large, is facing an economic slowdown and new, sometimes very tough challenges. We can turn these challenges into an opportunity. But only [...] by using the sole real competitive advantage that Europe has: its extraordinary knowledge base, the excellence of its higher education institutions, and the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens.'
Mr Barroso concluded by saying, 'the time has come for the EIT to throw open its doors.'
The recently appointed Governing Board, comprising 18 leaders in business, higher education and research, met to discuss everything from the institute's code of conduct to salary levels. The newly elected Executive Committee will see to the daily needs of the operation while the Governing Board, an independent decision-making body, remains responsible for guiding the EIT's strategic orientation and for monitoring and evaluating its Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs).
KICs form the basis of the EIT and have been conceptualised in response to the existing gap between education, research and business in Europe, and the perceived lack of innovation and entrepreneurial culture in research and higher education. They are excellence-driven public-private partnerships whose goal is to transform the results of higher education and research activities into tangible commercial innovation opportunities.
KICs will operate across Europe, and will be selected in response to the foremost challenges currently facing the EU. In the coming months the Governing Board will take steps to select the first two or three KICs, hopefully completing the process by January 2010.
These first partnerships are expected to tackle climate change, renewable energies and the next generation of information and communication technologies. Their selection will be through contractual agreements based on 'competitive, transparent and excellence-driven innovation criteria'. KICs will be autonomous in terms of internal organisation, composition, agenda and working methods, and will welcome new members from Europe and the rest of the world.
The EIT's Governing Board will enjoy a very high level of autonomy. Commenting on the significance of its first meeting, Professor Schuurmans said, 'I think I have never seen a group of people which has such a collective wisdom in so many fields of innovation [...] Let's make sure that in the next two to three years we have at least two successful KICs, successful in innovation and successful in education.'
The Governing Board's first seven-year Strategic Innovation Agenda, outlining the EIT's long-term priorities and financial needs, will be presented by the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament by 2011 at the latest.
One of the EIT's strengths is its mandate that business stakeholders, including SMEs, participate actively in all strategic, operational and financial aspects of the Institute. Businesses will profit by having immediate access to up-to-date, relevant research findings. In return, they will be expected to buy into the EIT, providing additional resources to universities and research organisations.
Mr Barroso commented that by integrating business in the institute and its KICs, the EIT will be sure to 'keep its feet on the ground'.
Ján Figel' stated, 'The unique feature of the EIT is that it brings excellence in enterprise, research and higher education together, to maximise potential synergies and cross-fertilisation of ideas from all parts of the "knowledge triangle". This is vital if we are to successfully face the challenges of the 21st century.'
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