Vice-President Andrus Ansip's speech at the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagships event

Speech by Vice-President Andrus Ansip at the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagships event, in Brussels

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to speak today – and for the final report on quantum from the expert group led by Professor Mlynek.

This is an important document.

It is our blueprint for combining and coordinating Europe’s strengths so that we stay at the forefront of the global race for new scientific horizons.

In today’s setting, I do not need to explain the importance of the FET Flagships. Many of you have direct experience of the work being done on graphene and the Human Brain Project.

This is challenging and long-term research into uncharted areas that stretch the boundaries of science and technology.

It is frontier and ground-breaking work. That is no exaggeration.

It was very inspiring to hear Professor Novoselov.

I had first-hand experience of graphene earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

While I only saw a few examples of how this material with extraordinary properties can be applied, it was clear that industry interest for this project is huge.

I remember a graphene-based sensor for collision detection systems, which combines visible and infrared light to avoid collisions even in fog.

And I recall a sensor in a flexible band around the arm to detect electrical signals from muscles in order to move a robotic hand.

Our other Flagship – the Human Brain Project – tackles one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time: to understand the human brain and its diseases.

This project should revolutionise neuroscience.

Understanding and emulating some of the brain’s computational capabilities should also lead to major advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and new computing architectures.

Ladies and gentlemen

Looking to the future, now is the time to decide where – and how – we want European research and innovation to focus over the next years.

That brings us rather quickly to funding.

As you know, the EU is now considering funding and priorities for its next budget period. This includes FP9, the successor to Horizon 2020 – our current research and innovation programme.

All options remain open, but a good deal of preparation is already done.

One of the main contributions is the recent report from the expert group chaired by Pascal Lamy on maximising the impact of EU research and innovation programmes.

It said that research and innovation should be prioritised in both EU and national budgets. Above all, it recommended that the EU’s post-2020 budget for this should be doubled.

There is no doubt that serious funding is required if we are to maintain European excellence in scientific research and turn scientific discoveries into a greater number of industrial applications.

We cannot afford to lag behind. China has already overtaken the EU in terms of R & D spending as a share of GDP. South Korea, Japan and the United States are at the top of the ranking.

As you know, it is never easy to secure enough public money for specific areas.

This is why we all need to be vocal about how important investing in R & I is for the future of Europe – and to show people the results of EU-funded research.

I find two other recommendations in the report to be particularly relevant for today’s discussion.

The FET Flagships successfully qualify for both and show the way forward.

One is to fine-tune our approach to be more mission-oriented and impact-focused to address global challenges.

The other is to improve how EU and national R & I investments are aligned – wherever this adds European value to what we want to achieve.

On the first, the Flagships provide the power to change how the world sees whole industries and wider society.

The applications and devices that are developed based on their results will bring major practical implications and benefits for everyone.

On the second, the projects are conducted together with EU countries.

This is why we already have better coordination between EU and national research programmes.

In my mind, there is no doubt that the Flagship projects will continue to play a key role, and for many years to come.

With graphene and the Human Brain Project, it is clear that we are on the right track to identify and develop practical applications that will make a positive difference to people’s lives, our society and economy.

Since we are looking ahead to future funding, we should also look ahead to new potential Flagship candidates. I am looking forward to seeing the selection process for this begin next year.

But before that, we have a third project about to start: quantum technologies.

Its ramp-up phase will begin in 2018 and cover the last three years of Horizon 2020.

The quantum project aims to turn Europe’s excellent research results into industrial leadership;

It should place Europe at the forefront of one of this century’s most promising technological developments.

The first quantum revolution expanded our horizons to an amazing extent.

Lasers and transistors,without which existing computers, mobile phones and the internet would be unthinkable. These applications and technologies are now mainstream. Advances in quantum technology made them all possible.

The second quantum revolution has just started.

It is based on our growing ability to manipulate and sense quantum effects in customised systems and materials.

This will mean totally new concepts for devices with a real practical impact.

– ultra-precise synchronisation and enhanced sensitivity devices;

– guaranteed data privacy and communication security;    

– unprecedented computing power that goes beyond anything now envisaged at the high-end of computing technology.

However, while Europe has many world-class scientists in quantum, so far there is little industrial take-up or commercial exploitation.

If we want to develop a strong quantum industry, we should coordinate our work together – and that is one of the main objectives of the Quantum Flagship.

We should not lose any time: there is now something of a world­wide race for technology and talent in quantum.

Despite several national initiatives on quantum, which are of course welcome, we have not yet had a coherent pan-European strategy.

With the expert group report, that changes today.

Ladies and gentlemen

Europe is home to 1.8 million researchers working in thousands of universities and research centres as well as in world-leading manufacturing industries.

We have the talent, the drive and the innovation.

By working together across borders, sectors and disciplines, we can push the boundaries of science and develop practical applications that can make a real difference to people’s lives.

This is the rationale of our political and financial commitment to future and emerging technologies, to:

– develop a dynamic environment for research and innovation;

– allow ideas to progress smoothly from laboratories to market;

– attract and retain world-class talent;

– and make sure that Europe remains a global science leader.

Thank you.