Europe's information technology commissioner has attacked what she calls the fragmentation of IT research in the European Union.
In a speech on Tuesday at the ICT 2008 symposium in Lyon, Viviane Reding pointed out that European spending on IT research and development — both public and private — remains far below that in the US.
"Although the [European] private sector invests €35bn per year in ICT research (more than a quarter of all business R&D investments) this adds up to only half as much as corporate US spending on ICT research," Reding said. "Europe's public investment in ICT R&D is also weaker than our competitors. It represents around 40 percent of the US level. Our track record in attracting venture capital and private equities to R&D in ICT is not very good either."
Reding went on to say that it was "not normal" that Europe had so few world-recognised IT "poles of excellence" despite the quality of its "many, but scattered" research teams.
"It is not normal that the EU has no university in the top 20 Academic Ranking of World Universities in engineering and computer science (although the system by which the ranking is achieved is certainly questionable)," Reding said. "Our problem is fragmentation. Addressing fragmentation is not a luxury. It is a must."
She also warned that Europe must not cut back on IT research and development in response to the current global economic crisis. "Especially in times of financial crisis we must reinforce the investments in our future capacities to innovate and grow," Reding said. "Cuts in public and private R&D spending may be tempting but this could irreversibly damage our economies and the ability to recover."
Reding highlighted areas where she thought European IT research excelled, namely telecoms, embedded systems, semiconductors and enterprise software. She also pointed to future technologies where Europe could take a lead: the "future internet" and "ICT for energy efficiency".
"We are on the threshold of a new era of network and service infrastructures: the internet of the future," Reding said. "This future internet will feature almost unlimited bandwidth capacity, wireless access everywhere, potentially trillions of devices interconnected, integrated security and trust for all parties, and adaptive and personalised services and tools. With its current strengths, Europe should not be content with anything less than leading this development."
Reding described "ICT for energy efficiency" as involving "improvements in energy efficiency right across the economy, targeting in particular the big energy-consuming areas of heating and lighting in buildings, manufacturing, transport and distribution of electrical power... Here as well, we can take the lead."
Small to medium-sized enterprises should be "at the centre" of European IT research and development, Reding said, adding that she intended to help them "intensify their links with investors, academic researchers, innovation professionals and policy makers", thereby making Europe a "launch-pad for high-tech start-ups".
"Early next year, I will propose a 'strategy for ICT research and innovation in the EU' and I will set ambitious goals for the next decade," Reding said. "Europe is the world's largest economy. It is the largest ICT market worldwide. I think it is about time that we move ahead also in other fields."