The European Union is to provide a 9 billion euros (US$12 billion) injection for research into information and communication technologies (ICT) over the next seven years.
Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for information society and media, said this week that the funding would provide a "much needed shot in the arm to European ICT research" and is intended to challenge states, industry and academia to "join us in the fight for a more competitive Europe".
The investment forms the largest single component of Europe's seventh "research framework program", which carries through into 2013. It is not yet clear how much of the money will find its way to the United Kingdom but, as an overall 11.6 percent of the last six framework programs' funding has gone to Britain (only Germany has received more), it seems likely that this trend will continue.
The funding will be distributed on the basis of a series of open "calls to tender", the first of which will be made in the spring of next year. At 1.2 billion euros (US$1.6 billion), it will be the largest call made in the history of the European Union. A criterion for bidders is that they have to be a consortium containing at least one university and one small-to-medium-sized business (SME), although these elements can be spread across states.
"This money will be distributed not on the basis of nationality, but on the basis of the best projects," Martin Selmayr, Commissioner Reding's spokesperson, told ZDNet UK on Friday. He explained that, although any "important" ICT-related project may qualify, there are two broad categories of projects for whom the money is intended.
One category will include flagship projects with visible results--always more attractive to politicians--that will benefit European society by improving everyday life in areas such as transport, energy efficiency and healthcare. For example, the EC is keen to see money spent on technology that could contribute to the development of a cleaner, safer and more efficient "intelligent car".
A second flagship project will be "ICT for an ageing society", which will encompass work into distance monitoring of elderly patients. A third will be "ICT for sustainable development"--including work on making electronic devices' "standby" mode consume less energy--and a fourth will be a "digital libraries" initiative, trying to aid the digitization of archive material using common standards across European institutions.
However, the other category of funding will be for more fundamental research into areas such as nanoelectronics, photonics, embedded systems, cognitive systems and robotics--technologies where Europe already sees itself as being in a strong or even market-leading position.
A new way of funding key technological research was also launched on Tuesday. Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) will see a pooling of resources between national governments, the EU and industry to pursue common research objectives. The first to see the light of day will be Artemis, which will involve research into embedded computing systems on a seven-year budget of 3 billion euros (US$3.9 billion).
"Finally, this need for money has led to a situation where everyone understands it is better to pool resources," explained Selmayr, adding that Europe had long suffered a "competitive disadvantage", when compared to places like the United States, due to a lack of co-operation and co-ordination between the public and private sectors.