The prospect of Europe's very own institute of technology - dubbed the European equivalent of MIT - is looking increasingly likely.
The Industry Committee of the European Parliament has now approved plans for the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), and it is thought that the European Parliament will officially accept the proposal on 11 March.
The concept of EIT has changed considerably since it was first conceived by José Barroso, the EU president, as a physical super-university that would be the direct equivalent to MIT, as the funding was deemed too great for the EU's budgets. It is also likely that EU member states would have competed over who would house the institute, as the host would be likely to benefit the most from the project.
After a series of negotiations between the European Council, the European Parliament and the Industry Committee, EIT will now act as a research framework for collaborations between existing universities, research institutions and commercial companies.
The institute is still expected to require an overall budget of €2.4bn for the first six years of its existence. While this money is expected to come from both private and public sources, the European Parliament and European Council had to rewrite its funding framework for 2007-2013 to provide €308.7m of the overall sum.
The institute will consist of a governing board of 18 experts from industry and academia, to be appointed within the next four months, who will then decide on key topics to be covered by EIT. Housing the governing body would provide a certain amount of prestige for the host country, and while the decision has not yet been finalised, an insider told LabTechnologist.com that Wroclaw, Budapest, Munich and Vienna are all strong candidates.
Once it has been elected, the governing board will make a call for proposals, and the successful applicants will form Knowledge and Innovation Communities, or KICs, the first of which should be operating by 2009. These must include at least one commercial and academic organisation and the researchers must come from at least two member states. Likely topics for research include climate change, renewable energy and information and communication technology.
It is hoped that this structure will encourage greater collaboration between groups from different countries, and it should spread the benefits of the funding across the EU. It should also help the EIT to act as a bridge between academic research and industry to benefit the EU's economy.
"Innovation is not a linear process going from fundamental research in universities to R&D within companies," Dr Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, an MEP and a member of the Industry Committee, explained to LabTechnologist.com.
"It should be a constant interaction between both academia and industry, one actor providing food for thought for the other. This is crucial to turn knowledge into money…... In comparison with other world regions and its main competitors, the EU is lacking behind in this area. The EIT should help to bridge that gap."