EU citizens' safety and security depends on competitiveness of industry

A Parliament Magazine event on nano-electronics systems innovation has highlighted the need to further invest in technology for safety and defence purposes.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

22 Jun 2015

The event was organised in cooperation with the electronic components and systems for European leadership (ECSEL) joint undertaking, which is a partnership between the private and public sectors specialised in electronic components.

Host Christian Ehler, parliament's European People's Party (EPP) group shadow rapporteur on Horizon 2020, opened the session by underlining that, "there has been a common understanding between the three institutions [parliament, commission and council] that security and safety are not only driven by a European interior policy, but by a broader strategic perspective".

He noted that, "in the past few years there has been a lot of talk about cybersecurity, on crime and state-driven incidents. The lesson learned is that we need to invest in research to develop basic technology that will make Europe more resilient to cyber threats."

Ehler, a vice-chair of parliament's subcommittee on security and defence, also warned that, "more and more, we are losing our European footprint in technology, and increasingly we are relying on technology that is no longer invented or produced in Europe".


Security - a concern for all

Andreas Wild, executive director of the ECSEL joint undertaking, was the first speaker on the panel and highlighted that it was "a topic of extraordinary importance for everyone."

"As a concerned citizen, I expect policymakers to take action to ensure my safety and security. At the same time, as a public servant involved in supporting research and innovation, I try to focus my efforts on ensuring European technological sovereignty - this means Europe conserving enough knowhow and capability to be master of its own destiny, and this requires sizeable efforts".

He explained that the electronic components industry "is not the largest in the world in terms of sales or jobs - it is rather small compared to others - but it is the industry that makes everything smart. When we use the word 'smart' in front of something - smartphone or smart car for example - what we mean us that we put a chip in that something that enables an application."

"This application could be anything, from purely civilian - like games or entertainment - to very serious, like defence and security, and we are not too far off from the 'joystick war' - robots fighting instead of people".

However, Wild underlined that European investments in the sector "are lagging behind the rest of the world", and that there was "a high level of investment in other regions of the world, such as Asia and the US, and funding in Europe does not match the playing field".

Yet the ECSEL joint undertaking is working on "a series of projects that will end up creating a world leadership position in microelectronic systems [and] in power transistors".

"We have to be able to transform these competences into industrial wins", he added.


Industry and researchers must work together

The next speaker was Rudolf Strohmeier, deputy director general of the commission's DG research and innovation. He explained that, "micro and nano-electronics are part of so-called 'key enabling technologies', and these rapidly evolving technologies form the core of Europe's industrial competitiveness, therefore a large part of Horizon 2020 is dedicated to these".

He highlighted that, "the research and innovation activities carried out by Horizon 2020 have full focus on civil applications, but their results belong to its participants and can also benefit defence and security capabilities".

"We can all agree that securing societies against disasters is one of the central elements of the functioning of each society", he said.

He stressed that technology and security have a role to play in a wide variety of areas, such as "the broad range of supporting EU external security policies - peacekeeping, border protection, conflict protection" and that this represented an opportunity.

He added, "Europe's future at large and the safety and security of its citizens depend on the competitiveness of the industry, which in turn depends on research and development (R&D), innovation and investment".

"Researchers must be prepared to work increasingly closely with industry, and industry must complement these efforts and explore synergies for use and applications".


A lack of investment

Rini Goos, deputy chief executive of the European defence agency (EDA), underlined that, "since 2007 we have witnessed a 29 per cent decrease in defence R&D budgets - the US invests seven times more in R&D and the Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) invest three times more than Europe".

He pointed out that, "the EDA works to preserve and maintain skills and competences in critical technological areas, and with our support member states have allocated more than €500m to 150 joint defence research programmes over the past 10 years".

However, "we cannot afford to invest in all technology areas, there is a need to invest where it makes sense - there is a case for prioritising and focusing policy investments in areas considered strategic at European level, therefore a coherent European defence industry approach should ensure the effectiveness of investment".

"Funding research is not about spending money, it is about investing in the future".

The last speaker on the panel was Philippe Magarshack, executive vice-president and chief technology officer of the embedded processing solutions segment at STMicroelectronics (ST), who highlighted that, "smartification is made possible by electronics and also applies to many areas - space and defence can also benefit from that additional computing and communication power".

He explained that his organisation is "taking concrete action to make ST's competences, knowhow, products and development capabilities available to the space and defence Industry in Europe, with the goal of making Europe more independent".

Christian Ehler wrapped up the session by noting that in terms of investing in technology for defence and security purposes, "we should not waste time analysing the obstacles - it would be much wiser to agree on common European interests. The treaties clearly allow for cooperation in this field, but in the council, there is still a lack of willingness to work together at European level".

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