President. The next item is the report (A6-0216/2006) by Mr Ransdorf on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, on nanoscience and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009 [2006/2004(INI)].
Miloslav Ransdorf (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I take the floor on the issue of nanotechnology with some trepidation, because we have seen that the original plans in this area, from the point of view of the budget, have not been fulfilled. We have seen expenditure cut by 38%, and, even though in the last framework plan there was a substantial increase from EUR 140 million per year to EUR 600 million, this figure still falls short of what we would have wanted, especially given the EU’s dynamism in this area. We are still in a great position in the area of fundamental research and publication – the EU is ahead of the United States in the field. As regards patents, however, the United States’ worldwide share is 42%, whereas the EU stands at 36%. We have also seen that when it comes to getting products onto the market, the EU works more slowly. US federal expenditure is approximately equivalent to that of the whole of the EU in the area of nanotechnologies and nanosciences, and the individual Member States have unequal spending levels. In fact, only Ireland spends more per head of the population than the United States.
I wish to stress the fact that opinion polls carried out in 2001, based on a sample of 16 000 people, showed that very few people in the EU are informed about nanotechnologies. In this regard, I should like to quote two great scholars. The first is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In Faust, Mephisto says: ‘Despise reason and science, and you are mine, all mine’. I do not wish to take the same position as Mephisto, but, in any event, I should warn against cutting spending in this area in comparison with other countries. The other great scholar I wish to quote – and I hope this makes him happy, even though he is not here today – is Günter Verheugen, who last week listed the ten priorities for the Union in this area, one of which is of course preparation of staff, that is to say, investing in educating the public so that it is ready for the new technologies. We cannot move forward without such change, because public opinion in the EU is often not in favour of these technologies. Some safety issues are of course exaggerated, for example, some proposed amendments tabled to this report by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. Amendments 3 and 6, for example would mean the virtual collapse of a whole framework of progress in research into nanosciences and nanotechnologies in the context of the Seventh Framework Programme. It is unacceptable that an entire complex research programme should be dismantled on the grounds that there can only be investment in areas where there will be no exposure for people and the environment. I believe that the European public, the European citizens, should be given safety guarantees, but it is not possible for us to wipe out an entire complex research plan.
Let me say that it is vitally important to emphasise the social aspect of nanotechnologies. They represent a huge opportunity for creating new jobs, for increasing investment in people, and for strengthening the whole area of medicine and health science. In this regard, nanotechnologies represent a huge opportunity. They are comparable in scope with microelectronics in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Just like microelectronics, nanotechnologies permeate every area of people’s lives. They have major implications in the field of energy, for example, in terms of the possibilities of new lighter, more reliable and more robust materials. The possibility also opens up of building transport equipment that will use less energy. Demand for materials and energy can be cut substantially by means of using nanotechnologies. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the challenge that we have to meet head on if we are to guarantee that the European Community remains competitive on the world stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are my introductory remarks and I look forward to the debate. I should like to thank Mr Potočnik and Mr Verheugen of the Commission, the members of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and Mr Renzo Tomellini, head of the nanosciences and nanotechnologies unit.
Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I am here today to talk about the big issue of small technologies. Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Greek politician Demosthenes said: ‘Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.’ I believe he was right. And I mean enterprise in every sense of the word – not just as a business, but as a project and a voyage of discovery.
Nanotechnology has already shown that it holds a lot of promise. It not only offers new solutions to many current problems, but also opens up new innovation opportunities, boosting the economy and creating jobs.
Nanotechnology is already making a difference in many areas. For example, new medical treatments are being developed for severe diseases such as brain tumours and Alzheimer’s disease; it is helping the environment through more efficient catalysts, better batteries and more efficient light sources; and smaller, lighter and better-performing materials, components and systems are being created. But nanotechnology could also make a huge contribution to major global challenges such as how to tackle threats to the environment, how to make better use of resources and create less waste, and how to improve energy generation technologies.
Europe is in a leading position in the world today, partly thanks to the Commission’s framework programme. European industry should now reap the benefits of that knowledge through innovative products and processes. But to follow through, we need to take action on several fronts, which are outlined in the Commission’s communication Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies: An Action Plan for Europe 2005-09. These include the need to increase investment, boost interdisciplinarity, create necessary infrastructures, expand human resources and foster innovation.
Much progress has already been made in implementing the action plan: Commission funding for research in nanosciences and nanotechnologies has steadily increased to about EUR 470 million in 2005. In fact, the Commission has now become the world’s largest single public funding agency for nanotechnology. It accounted for 30% of public funding of nanotechnology research in the European Union last year. Significant funding increases are expected over the duration of the Seventh Framework Programme. The Commission has proposed expanding funding for nanotechnology, with a new emphasis on developing infrastructures and projects assessing the risk of nanotechnology for humans and the environment. That is a key area, because, as well as the benefits, we must also recognise the potential risks. These must be carefully assessed. Some concerns have already been raised about new applications.
The action plan addresses these too. Special projects and publicity in many languages will provide information and communication. There are projects to engage the public – presenting both sides of the argument; brochures explaining how nanotechnology works; and even DVDs explaining the issues in simple terms for children. In addition, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies is working on an opinion on the ethics of nanomedicine, which we expect to be delivered to President Barroso soon.
The Commission is committed to ensuring a balanced approach. What is fundamental is to have a high level of public health, safety, environmental and consumer protection. To do that, in Europe we need to identify the safety concerns, collect data for a health and environmental impact assessment of the product, and act at the earliest possible stage through adjustments, where necessary, of risk assessment procedures for nanotechnology.
The Commission is also looking at the European legislation applicable to nanotechnology. We are assessing how adequate and appropriate that legislation is to deal with the increasing use of nanotechnologies. We also need to consider potential regulatory issues.
Lastly, we are active in many international fora, addressing new issues and seeking to develop a code of good conduct.
I am very happy to note that the European Parliament, through the report of Mr Ransdorf, fully recognises the important role to be played by nanosciences and nanotechnologies and welcomes the Commission’s action plan. I find it very positive that the report calls for increased public investment in related research and development, particularly in developing relevant infrastructures and nanomedicine. It is equally important that it stresses the importance of creating the right climate for innovation in Europe as well as emphasising the importance of ‘speaking with one voice’ internationally in this highly promising research area. I am very happy to note that the report has enjoyed a very large measure of support from the three parliamentary committees that have discussed it.
To conclude, I hope I have given you a brief outline of the Commission’s balanced and growing nanosciences and nanotechnologies policy. Together, we can all benefit from that exciting new enterprise. I thank the European Parliament for its support so far and hope you will continue to support the Commission in further developing the European dimension of nanoscience and research.
Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs. – Mr President, I am pleased that Mr Ransdorf has incorporated many of our committee’s suggestions into his report.
It is clear that nanosciences and nanotechnologies represent one of the fastest-growing industries of the 21st century. Nanotechnology has the potential to have an impact on a number of industries and it has a predicted market of nearly one trillion euros within a decade.
However, Europe has been slow to realise this potential and thus holds a small market share in research and development and education and, as a result, industrial innovation in this field. It is imperative that the EU adopt this plan to support nanoscience development, education and vocation within the Member States. Furthermore, an emphasis on nanoscience and nanotechnology is critical to reaching the goals set by the Lisbon Strategy.
With regard to the report, I should like to highlight a few goals that have been incorporated and identify an important point that unfortunately has not been addressed adequately. Firstly, nanoscience and nanotechnology is permeated with ethical issues. As such, I am pleased that the report has included our committee’s suggestion to maintain high ethical principles and has welcomed public reviews on non-therapeutic human enhancement and privacy. In addition, I support the Commission’s proposal to respond to the dynamic nature needed for proper regulation in this field.
Secondly, the proposal has a strong emphasis on patents. Reform, as well as global incorporation of the patent system for nanoscience and nanotechnology within the Member States, is crucial to Europe’s success in this field. Reform must include a decrease in cost for the patent process, as well as an increase in accessibility of patents for SMEs. Furthermore, to promote global compliance with patent recognition and protection, we should emphasise the importance of fulfilling WTO regulations, especially in China.
However, protection of intellectual property rights, both internationally and within Europe, has not been developed sufficiently in the report. Member States are called upon to coordinate actions regarding IPR and act within OECD and UNESCO. This is too weak to protect IPR in this field. These organisations deal more with promoting good practices than with ensuring action. Thus, real standards could prove more effective.
With strong growth projected in the field of nanosciences and nanotechnology, it is important that the EU accept the Commission proposal to adopt new approaches to this industry, from education to R[amp]D. Such actions will contribute to heightened competitiveness and development in our Member States.
Giles Chichester, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, first of all I would like to congratulate Mr Ransdorf, my colleague and Vice-President of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, for his excellent report. I would like to affirm my Group’s general support for his report and for the Commission’s proposal.
Nanosciences and nanotechnologies are very important for the future of the economy and society. They hold huge promise for industrial and other applications. It is a very exciting technology in all sorts of areas. As a measure of the priority we are giving to nanosciences and nanotechnologies in Europe, I note that this topic is a significant theme in the Seventh Framework Programme. I welcome this action plan.
Having said that, I wish to enter a note of regret at the rather negative and fearful approach characterised in the Verts/ALE Group’s amendments. It is a pity to react against imagined risks, merely because they are in something that is so small as to be difficult to identify, or even, dare I say, to understand. Or perhaps that just applies to simple souls like myself. I would urge caution, therefore, on the requirements for labelling in advance of scientific evidence and on applying the precautionary principle. If we always applied this principle, then innovation, invention and inquiry would all go out the window and we would make no progress at all.
I also want to enter a reserve on the issue of whether nanoparticles should be included in REACH. Let us be quite clear that many known particles are part of existing chemical stock and should therefore be treated under that category. We have enough problems with REACH without adding to them on a very small level.
Finally, I shall end on a note of optimism and remind colleagues of the old saying ‘out of little acorns grow huge oaks’. I hope my party at home is listening to that remark.
Adam Gierek, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (PL) Mr President, nanoscience deals with phenomena in solid state material at nano level, namely at the scale of 10-9 of a metre. Nanotechnology is based on this research. It is a particularly promising area of technology and represents a potentially positive trend that may dramatically increase the likelihood of progress in many areas of our lives.
Amongst others, the automotive and aviation industries could benefit. One of these benefits could be the manufacture of smooth abrasion-proof coatings containing nano particles. There could also be benefits for our health, in the form of medicinal products or cosmetics. In addition, there may be useful spin-offs for the energy sector, in the form of fuel cells or nano-porous hydrogen absorbers and efficient solar batteries. I could also mention ICT technologies exploiting optical and spin states that facilitate further compression of information to be read with blue lasers, and to biotechnology, including DNA research and bioinformatic systems. To these examples one could add sensory or construction materials such as nano-composites or fibres and fabrics whose surfaces are activated by electron compounds. At the same time, unfortunately, permanent damage to the environment may be caused, and the atmosphere may be polluted by the long term presence of aerosol gases that are difficult to monitor.
There are two kinds of nanotechnology. The first is known as ‘top down’ technology. Amongst other things it involves the transition from the macro to the nano state, for instance by the grinding of powders, and the development and activation of their surfaces through increased potential. Nano-diamond coating materials are one example of such technology. The second group is known as ‘bottom up’ technology and allows the molecular level to be set. The creation of highly integrated spintronic devices is one example of this. Unfortunately, we have few technologies available that use tunnel microscopy or self-organising phenomena. Biological information systems form part of this group.
In conclusion, it should be stated that scienctific policy in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology should first take account of the fact that, as it stands, the development of ‘top down’ technology in the European Union allows for the creation of at least a few and perhaps more than a dozen technological platforms. Secondly, ‘bottom up’ technology requires further intensive cutting edge research in the area of basic science. And thirdly, a method of researching current pollution levels should be devised as a mater of urgency. I am referring to the current pollution of the atmosphere with nano particles that is not a result of nano technology. This is something more than PM 2.5, which passes easily into our bodies through cell membranes and whose catalytic action can be harmful to health. Who knows, perhaps the cancer epidemic may be linked to the permanent presence of nano-aerosols in our environment. It is a presence that is difficult to define, may be growing and has a range of sources.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, let me start with warm congratulations to the rapporteur, Mr Ransdorf, who really has got stuck in to the subject and tried to cover every aspect of it; I also appreciate his philosophical reflections at the beginning of his speech.
We Europeans have to be aware of the fact that we will not remain leaders in a range of markets and technologies for ever, and that there are many markets in which we have already lost it, and along with it the power to control many technologies; one thinks of the pharmaceutical industry, more and more of which is moving away from Europe, and microelectronics, a sphere in which more and more of the discoveries are being made in Asia.
Although, in nanotechnology, we Europeans are ahead of the world and are, technologically speaking, the tops, this has to be qualified by saying that we focus not only on the technology, but also on people, and that is a characteristically European approach, one that is brought out in this report – at any rate in the form in which it was adopted by the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. That is the form in which it must remain. The report in its present form strikes a balance between high-tech and the bounds of ethics as well as between industrial policy and the interests of the consumer, both of which are equally important and must be balanced.
If we are to stay ahead, real support must be forthcoming from the European Union, and that can be done not only through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research but also – and this is at least equally important – through standardisation and the application of norms. What is needed for global competition is a globally binding framework, and this is where we can do as we did with GSM technology, where we Europeans were active in moving the process forward and achieved a certain position on the world market.
The big problem with the whole nano-debate, though, is that the subject is too abstract; people have no conception of what it is about, and so, once more, the door is wide open to those who make it their business to spread fear throughout Europe, whose attitudes are reflected in a number of amendments tabled here, just as they were when we were considering software patents, and also, to some degree, with REACH. We cannot afford the same thing with nanotechnology, to which the scaremongers in the fear industry are becoming the principal obstacles. What we need at the moment, though, is every job we can get; it is because we must not blow out of the water the Lisbon Strategy that is on our lips every day that we have to make nanotech more real to people. Nanotechnology is already creating jobs; I myself have visited firms working in this field and find it utterly fascinating. There is enormous scope available in the semiconductor industry, in the automobile sector and in medical technology. By all means, let us have risk assessments, but let us not go overboard about them.
Can anyone among you confirm to me that they do not use a mobile phone in view of the known risks involved? If consumers see the potential gain as greater than the potential damage, then they will use the technology; that is what is absolutely crucial, and that is why people need to be able to have the information on the basis of which they can come to their own decisions. We in the European Parliament are playing our part in ensuring that they get it. STOA, this House’s Committee for scientific technology options assessment, is organising nano-cafés, which are happening in Brussels on 18 October, and you are all warmly invited.
David Hammerstein Mintz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (ES) Mr President, I would like to say that we Greens are not opposed to nanotechnology, but things have to be done properly. Otherwise, we will never have the consumer confidence needed, we will not be able to take advantage of the great potential benefits of this technology, and investments will have been squandered.
Those who spurn precaution are not friends of nanotechnology. Quite the opposite. At the moment, we are stepping on the gas of nanotechnology without first ensuring that we have emergency brakes or even knowing whether the steering is working.
Nanoparticles are being used widely in sensitive consumer products such as cosmetics, detergents, paints and textiles. Our worry is that we may be paving the way towards a great health scandal in the future.
These fears are not without foundation. The European scientific committee has stated, and points out in its opinion of 28 and 29 September of last year, that there are significant gaps in the knowledge required to assess the risks, for example with regard to the definition of nanoparticles, their detection and measuring, data, doses, responses, evolution, the persistence of nanoparticles in human beings and in the environment and all aspects of environmental toxicology. That same committee stresses that we do not even have methods for evaluating the risks.
We are talking about elements that have a very different value. The main problem is that the uncontrolled release of nanoparticles may be considerably more dangerous than that of conventional particles, because nanoparticles are much more chemically reactive and are easily oxidisable, and radicals that are highly reactive and harmful to the human body may be produced. Nanotubes may behave in the human body in a manner similar to asbestos fibres. We all know what happened in the case of asbestos.
Once they are released into the environment, we know very little about how nanoparticles behave and react, and the European Union must do everything it can to promote research in that area. Nevertheless, at the moment just a tiny fraction of investment in research is directed towards precaution, and we have no regulation whatsoever. We do not have a legal framework for the use of these products.
Our policy cannot be to market these products first and then ask questions later. We need a policy of precaution in order to be able to move forward definitively with this technology.
Vladimír Remek, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted that Parliament is devoting attention to the issue of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. I wish to express my appreciation and support for the report before us, which confirms that this is one of the key technologies of the 21st century. It is therefore appropriate that nanosciences and nanotechnologies should figure among the EU’s priorities. There are both negative and positive aspects to this issue, however.
On the positive side is the support that upcoming technologies have gained across the whole of Parliament. As the report correctly says, the development of nanotechnologies presents an extraordinary opportunity. Europe is currently keeping pace with the world. I saw evidence of this a few days ago during a visit to the northern Czech town of Liberec. The results of work carried out by Liberec Technical University and a company in the town were, in terms of the research and application of nanotechnology, absolutely world-class, including the manufacture of exceptionally high-quality machinery. I should also like to point out that this is one of the smaller Czech towns and not a potential science centre, like Prague or Brno. Nanotechnologies also represent an opportunity, in my view, for smaller countries, and generally for smaller organisations. The development of nanosciences and nanotechnologies naturally requires substantial support, not only in the Czech Republic but also across Europe as a whole. The rest of world is already aware of this. Who do you think is among the most actively interested in the conclusions of the work of scientists and technical experts in Liberec? Naturally, it is people from other continents – especially from North America, but also from South East Asia.
Which brings me to one of the negative aspects of the development of nanotechnologies in Europe, and this is what I feel to be the insufficient protection of intellectual property in relation to the application of the results of research in other sectors. Another issue is financial support, which, in my opinion, is insufficient, complicated and difficult to obtain. The report also points out that the United States already accounts for 37% of the world’s expenditure, whereas Europe's spending stands at 24%, less than that of Japan. The planned funding of nanosciences and nanotechnologies as part of the Seventh Framework Programme also lags behind that of the US.
To conclude. I should like to mention what I personally feel is a further significantly positive effect. Nanosciences and nanotechnologies offer very good prospects for young people with an interest in science and technology and in studying at university. We must not pass up this opportunity to give the development of science and technology in the EU fresh impetus. We must ensure that we are present when the prefix ‘nano’ – meaning ‘dwarf’ or ‘gnome’ – gives birth to a giant of the 21st century.
Nils Lundgren, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (SV) Nanotechnologies are without doubt of great significance for the future of mankind. Progress is rapid, and the technology will have a dramatic impact on nearly every field.
There is a deep-rooted notion in this House that all important phenomena such as this must be controlled by the EU. In every report it is stressed that organisation, legislation, supervision and funding must be the responsibility of the EU. In every report the importance of the EU not lagging behind the USA, Japan and China in terms of global competition is pointed out. Yet we never see any convincing analysis of what it is about the market that cannot sort itself out of its own accord and therefore requires official measures. We never see any convincing analysis of the level at which such official measures should be taken. Every single time, the reports are based on the idea that the European Parliament is perfect in its proficiency and therefore can and should charge the Commission and the Member States with the task of complying with its instructions. The European Parliament calls on and reminds everyone of the problems faced by the world and of how they are to be solved, stressing and emphasising these. For example, the rapporteur, Mr Ransdorf, wants Parliament to establish that nanotechnologies ought to be geared to the development of hydrogen energy. I contend that the European Parliament is guaranteed to be incompetent to decide a matter of this nature. Nanotechnologies are developed with the most speed and efficiency when not controlled from on high by international bureaucracies. It is the international research community, businesses and the national institutions that are best placed to experiment and compete in the field of nanotechnologies, and it is private and state organisations within the nation states that are best placed to produce information material about nanotechnologies in keeping with the values and experiences of their own peoples. The role of the EU in this context should be restricted to setting up a patent-monitoring system for this field, establishing ethical and environmental policy standards and possibly providing funding of very large-scale projects along the lines of fusion research.
Luca Romagnoli (NI). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that Europe needs a consistent system of cutting-edge infrastructure, research and development in order to remain competitive in the field of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. Nanosciences and nanotechnologies can play a positive role in achieving important economic, social and environmental goals, and I hope that they will be able to meet the needs of the citizens and thus contribute to the well-being of the nations.
There are undeniable facts that we cannot overlook: a whole host of technological advances are just round the corner thanks to the way in which atoms and molecules have been aggregated to form new materials. It is vital that more funding be granted to this area of research so as to guarantee the competitiveness of the European industrial system, but there must always be respect for inalienable ethical principles and public health and environmental criteria.
I agree with some of the amendments tabled by Mr Hammerstein and Mrs Breyer, and they are: Amendment 1 to paragraph 2, which is a useful and sensible recommendation on the assessment of potential risks to human health and the environment and the subsequent social and ethical implications and which takes nothing away from the original text; Amendment 6, which maintains that funding for research must be granted exclusively to projects that use at least half of the resources to carry out risk assessments; and Amendment 8, which stresses that the risk assessments must be carried out throughout the life cycle of the products obtained from nanotechnologies, from conception to completion.
We cannot overlook the fact that there appear to be many toxicological risks linked to nanotechnologies, a point that is also upheld by countless experts interviewed by the prestigious MIT periodical ‘Technology Review’. The report does, however, also consider this side of things.
As regards the new paragraph 5a, I believe, instead, that it is only right to advise caution in terms of a satisfactory risk assessment and to guarantee the traceability and labelling of, and accountability for, products based on nanotechnologies. However, although I agree about the limitations of research, I find the text to be slightly vague and so I shall abstain, just as I shall abstain on the proposed new paragraph 17.
To conclude, the nations and Europe have to be competitive in the field of nanosciences, and the effort proposed seems minimal – a half-hearted commitment – in terms of trying to bridge the gap that already exists between us and both the United States and the Far East. The report rightly considers both the economic and strategic perspectives of the knowledge triangle and the requirements in relation to sustainability and people’s health. I shall therefore vote in favour of Mr Ransdorf’s excellent work.
Nikolaos Vakalis (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, today the European Parliament, with the report by Mr Ransdorf, whom I congratulate, is sending out an important and specific message: that nanotechnologies, with their surprising potential and development prospects, are at the centre of the European Union's development policies.
Our researchers in this sector are not lagging behind researchers anywhere else. On the contrary, one could say that they are the first in the world. Thus, here too, the bet which we are being called upon to win is to develop and exploit economically the knowledge produced. In order to win this bet, we need, as in other knowledge sectors, to link our wealth of human resources with production promptly and effectively. We need cooperation between the state and the private sector. Universities, research centres, industry, companies and banks need to come together and cooperate closely and with vision. We need, above all, to advise and prepare the citizens for the revolution which nanotechnologies will bring to their everyday life. They will change the world as we know it.
Ladies and gentlemen, nanotechnologies and nanosciences are to the 21st century what the Internet was to the 20th century. We cannot afford to again experience the European paradox which we have seen in the past. In the past, the Internet, a clearly European idea, was developed by America better than anyone.
It is time, as the European Union, for us to prove that we know not only how to develop new ideas, but also to exploit them for the benefit of European citizens.
Teresa Riera Madurell (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Mr Potočnik, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on his excellent report and stress that the European Union must continue to attach importance to scientific research and technological development in nanosciences and nanotechnologies, which, furthermore, are one of the thematic priorities of the Seventh Framework Programme.
Ladies and gentlemen, as previous speakers have said, nanosciences and nanotechnologies are seen as key technologies for the 21st century, with significant repercussions for our industry. This is a multidisciplinary field which opens up a whole range of new opportunities and of solutions to citizens’ and companies’ real needs, and it is therefore expected to make a great contribution to the European Union's achievement of its sustainable development and competitiveness objectives.
The European Union is certainly the leader in this sector, although it invests considerably less in R and D in this field than the United States or Japan. I agree with the rapporteur’s opinion that the European Union must strengthen this leadership in order to consolidate and enhance our position in a highly competitive world context and in a very promising sector.
To this end, it is not sufficient simply to increase investment in R and D. At the same time we must guarantee the excellence of research, ensure that we have sufficient qualified personnel, greater coordination of resources and better coordination of policies with the Member States, and continue to improve the business environment, mainly by modernising our SMEs and creating new ones on the basis of knowledge, so that excellent R and D in nanosciences and nanotechnologies is converted into new products and new processes.
The European technological platforms linked to nanosciences and nanotechnologies contribute to establishing common research objectives and priorities that are of interest to industry.
I would also like to stress the importance of international cooperation. Ladies and gentlemen, we must not place obstacles in the way of scientific progress. We must support our researchers, since it is they who are more aware of the pros and cons in this field than anybody else. What certainly is the case though is that, in order for the citizens to have faith in science, knowledge of scientific progress must be disseminated in a comprehensible manner and the public’s awareness must be improved, so that there is greater understanding of the real challenges and implications for our lives.
Vittorio Prodi (ALDE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful to Mr Ransdorf for his report and I should also like to thank Mr Potočnik for his presence in this House.
Nanotechnologies are extremely important, and none more so than nanoelectronics, which enables us to achieve ever greater gains in efficiency while consuming less energy than we currently do with microelectronics, as is also confirmed by the platform’s work.
Nanotechnologies signify the intelligent use of common materials, for example through filtration and catalysis, of materials that may enable us to avoid the difficulties linked at times to the scarcity of rare elements. I should, however, like to point out that the fears about the consequences for people’s health are not unfounded. The nanometric size of the particles requires consideration to be given to the risks associated with a new kind of toxicology. According to the available evidence, these particles can pass directly through the cell membranes and therefore may attack the nucleic acids. I think it only right for resources and energy to be devoted to this issue.
I should like to conclude by addressing the Commissioner: we need to reform the European Patent Office, as it currently lacks satisfactory controls. Parliament must be able to have its say; the work can no longer just be intergovernmental, but must become part of the Union’s activities. The overall issue of advancing and safeguarding science is in fact a Union issue.
Hiltrud Breyer (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, what are policy-makers supposed to do about nanotechnology? We cannot allow ourselves to become no more than promoters who uncritically accept hype, and nor can it be our function to go into the roadshow and nanocafé business in an attempt at allaying people’s real fears. We cannot allow ourselves to be no more than carriers of advertising for nanotechnology.
Politicians are there to see to it that consumers and the environment are protected. Nanotechnology is used to put on the market products such as cosmetics, cleaning materials, and textiles, which are aimed at private consumers and virtually unregulated. As Mr Prodi has just said, there is no legal framework applicable to nanotechnology. When the Commission’s scientific committee admits, as it did on 29 September last year, and I quote, that ‘there are considerable gaps in terms of risk assessment, of characterisation and of the measurement of nano-particles. Little is known about the relationship between dose and effect, nothing at all about where in the human body nano-particles end up and how long they remain there, and little about the degree to which they are toxic to the environment’, then we cannot ignore that and bury our heads in the sand; on the contrary, is it for you, you in the Commission, to create a permanent legal framework to protect all consumers.
Have we really learned nothing from our experience with asbestos? We have just heard that nano-particles are capable of crossing the blood/brain barrier. Knowing as we do of these risks, surely we have to put protective mechanisms in place? We cannot simply allow these products to be put onto the market and tested on consumers; we cannot allow consumers to be treated as guinea pigs!
It is no part of the role of policy makers to be placard carriers for nanotechnology; their role, on the contrary, is to put in place a comprehensive legal framework for their regulation, control and measurement – all the things, that is, to which your own expert opinion makes reference.
Anything else would be to do a disservice to nanotechnology, which can make headway on the market, and be economically sustainable, only if we make it plain that account must also be taken of the interests of the consumers and of the risks involved. If Europe is to be a good place in which to site a business, it must also be a good place in which to be a consumer, and there is a lot missing in that respect. I see it as positively irresponsible that the Commission, even though it knows what is missing and is aware of the lack of any methodology for assessing the risks, wants to allow the marketing of consumer goods aimed at private citizens and their households, without the certainty of every risk having been removed. I again appeal to you, as a matter of urgency, to do something about this.
We have as yet had little to say about the dangers, the ethical problems, about enhancement, about the enrichment of nano-particles in human beings, for we have long believed that these were the stuff of science fiction, but these perils are drawing closer.
What I expect of the European Union is that it should give the USA an answer, and our answer, the European response to nanotechnology, far from being that we are willing to follow technology in a lemming-like fashion, must be that we will take a socially responsible approach and consider the risks involved.
Bastiaan Belder (IND/DEM). – (NL) Mr President, it is vitally important that attention be given to nanotechnology. The production of new material at the molecular level results in the creation of new characteristics, the effects of which on human health and on the environment are as yet unknown. The Commission has produced a proposal for an action plan to run until 2009, which is full of high expectations of the economic and social benefits, but the Commission regards the public's ethical misgivings and concerns mainly as obstacles, and so, Commissioner, in that respect, I have to tell you that the action plan is particularly unbalanced.
The same, unfortunately, can be said of the Ransdorf report, even though it does, to some extent, act as a counterbalance. What, then, is missing? What is absent, above all, is the willingness to consider concerns other than safety risks, not least the issue of whether or not new technologies are desirable, or issues to do with people’s convictions about life in general. The benefits and possible adverse effects must first of all be considered, in order to prevent choices being made solely on the basis of economic value while the technology is still at an early stage in its development.
Secondly, we in the European Union must concentrate more on international coordination, not only as regards toxicity tests and risk assessments across the whole life cycle, but also as regards legislation on standards, labelling and liability, with those who market nanoparticles being liable for any damage caused by them.
Finally, one has to consider the desirability or otherwise of patents relating to nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, particularly with regard to basic and general technology and to materials capable of being used in a wide variety of different ways. Can the Commission have a critical analysis done of this? It might then consider the question of to what extent the patents and licenses would put poorer countries at a still greater disadvantage and what might be done to counteract this.
Leopold Józef Rutowicz (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the results of research into nanotechnology and its applications indicate an enormous potential for producing materials with beneficial properties. The way in which these materials are exploited will have an impact on progress in the fields of industry, the economy and health protection in the 21st century, as well as improving our standard of living. The race to make further progress in the field of nanoresearch and nanotechnology has begun and the European Union cannot afford to lose it.
The report indicates a range of obstacles to be overcome. These include legal and formal issues, protecting intellectual property, coordinating research and making it available to the public, setting up interdisciplinary research groups, training, obtaining additional funding from private investors and the safe use and management of new materials. All these activities should be monitored and supported by Parliament.
I should like to thank Mr Randsford for a sound and much-needed report.
Jan Březina (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank the rapporteur for his report, which sets out very precisely the trends in this dynamic sector of science and technology. The changes brought about by nanotechnologies are comparable with the technological revolutions of the past and may perhaps even outstrip them. The possibilities unfolding before us give rise to a series of challenges. The report reacts to some of these, while leaving others unanswered. The conclusion from the text before us is that our global partners and competitors are aware of the importance of nanotechnologies and related research. This is clear from the sums earmarked for this research and from the conditions created for it. Although the Commission had intended to raise the volume of funding from the Seventh Framework Programme earmarked for nanotechnologies, it did not actually do so substantially, according to the rapporteur, who compares the public and private resources of Europe, the United States and Japan in this regard. Europe lags behind the United States as regards both generating competitive infrastructure and adopting standards on intellectual property.
The issue of patenting inventions in the area of nanosciences and nanotechnologies is moving ahead slowly in Europe and the report emphasises the need to reform the European patent system in order to help science and innovation as a whole. What is sadly missing is a timetable. One aspect of the use of nanotechnologies missing from the report is that of their possible use for the military. The fact that these technologies are not the subject of any restrictions may come back to haunt us. The free transfer of these technologies is likened by Thomas van der Molen in his report to providing a nuclear reactor to all countries on the understanding that none will be used for developing nuclear weapons. I believe that in the near future we will have to take the area of nanotechnologies into account too, and address this question.
Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) Nanotechnologies have potential, but anyone seeking, uninformed, to release such technologies onto the consumer market, unregulated and without safeguards, really does jeopardise such potential. The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance wants knowledge to come first, then regulation protecting the environment and health and then marketing. That is the right order.
Nanoparticles do not have the same toxic characteristics as ordinary particles. Coal dust is not hazardous, but nanoparticles in the form of carbon clusters cause serious brain damage in fish within 48 hours at concentrations as low as 0.5 ppm. Nanotubes are capable of destroying mitochondrial DNA, while nanoparticles on the skin can migrate to the brain and the lymph nodes and damage our bodies. Our immune system is simply not adapted to cope with nanoparticles. The EU’s own research shows that non-biodegradable and biologically incompatible nanoparticles can be life-threatening and that all inhalation and ingestion of these should be avoided.
Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Mr President, the main focus of the report is on the benefit of nanoscience and nanotechnologies and the need for Europe to be at the forefront of their development, in line with the Lisbon objectives of greater productivity and economic growth. While laudable, this leads to one major gap: the recommended increases in research in nanotechnologies are preceding legislation to regulate these technologies.
Legislation should, at minimum, keep up with research. In the hurry to get ahead of China and the United States, we may see regulation including risk assessment as being something that could hold us back. However, there are questions on non-therapeutic human enhancement, privacy, equity, patenting, military applications, safety and health and the environment, which we need to answer first. Regulation in this case should ensure that we do not in our haste create very difficult problems. If it is good regulation, it will serve research and make it more focused and effective. ‘Look before you leap’ has always been a good and useful maxim.
Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank our rapporteur, Mr Ransdorf, for his committed report, in which he has handled this important issue with a great deal of awareness and sensitivity, and it now needs to be found its right place within the framework of the European institutions. On the one hand, there is fundamental research, there is the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, the Europe Research Council, and the technology platforms – where we have done something of lasting value – and I would like to congratulate Commissioner Potočnik on the prospective great success of this Seventh Framework Programme.
There is also the Joint Research Centre, which could do more to deal with what has become known as the anxiety industry, and its objectivity would certainly be a sound basis on which to monitor these new technologies. The ‘European Institute of Technology’ proposed by the Commission under President Barroso could make it its business, by means of a top-down strategy, to communicate the insights of fundamental research to the education and training sectors, or a bottom-up strategy might be employed to extract this knowledge from the educational institutions, but also and in particular from small and medium-sized businesses and to present it on such a platform as ‘eBay’, with the possibility of the net being used to exchange ideas, express aspirations and guarantee better communication in the twenty or more European languages.
The fusion reactor ITER could also play a role in this respect, for it is in research into fusion and plasma that nanotechnology presents a whole new challenge as a means of advancing energy efficiency, minimising losses due to wear and tear, and of developing strategies for fighting against corrosion, not least in the generation of energy. There are many possibilities in many others fields, cleaning being one of them.
Ján Hudacký (PPE-DE). – (SK) I would like to express my gratitude to the rapporteur, Mr Ransdorf, for his very accurate report highlighting the shortcomings in nanotechnology development, as well as the enormous opportunities and promising future of this sector.
The European Commission’s action plan outlines preconditions for the continued support of this sector and calls on Member States to put more emphasis on it within the context of developing a knowledge-based economy. Nanotechnology forms an integral part of various technological disciplines and will, in the near future, have a major positive impact on virtually every branch of industry, and these facts alone necessitate the implementation of an action plan in order to ensure a high degree of coordination and support.
I would now like to mention some of the problems facing this important area of research and development. I believe that research and development of any extent at all in the area of nanotechnology would in itself meet the criteria of excellence. However, in many instances this formal requirement, in combination with the requirement for a so-called critical mass of resources, blocks the participation of smaller university research and innovation centres, as well as innovation centres in small and medium-sized enterprises backed by national and European support programmes, such as the Seventh Framework Programme or the upcoming Framework Programme for Competition and Innovation.
In this regard I would like to draw your attention on the one hand to the need for better cooperation between the small and large organisations that are active in this area of research and development, and on the other hand to the need to enhance the internal competitive environment.
The other problem I would like to highlight is funding. We continue to witness a deterioration in the amount of funding available for research and development, and this applies also to nanotechnology. It only remains to be stated that despite our capable scientific and innovative potential we are clearly behind the US in this area. In addition to the Seventh Framework Programme, a solution might be sought, primarily for smaller research and innovation projects, in venture capital, where the potential for more efficient institutionalisation by means of public-private partnerships is often underestimated.
I believe that the European Commission, along with the European Investment Fund, could play a better coordinating role through the JEREMIE Programme, accompanied by specific and clear recommendations to Member States regarding the creation of efficient incentives financed from public funds, including the structural funds.
IN THE CHAIR: MR PIERRE MOSCOVICI Vice-President
Romana Jordan Cizelj (PPE-DE). – (SL) Nanoscience and nanotechnology have a great potential to make further contributions to the prosperity of mankind. However, politics too should act in line with technological development, be it with various initiatives or with legislative measures. Here we have to promote development and put into place legislation which prevents abuses and limits risks. In this light, the document drafted by the Commission is very important.
However, we are rather late in dealing with this matter. Parliament, the Commission and the Council are close to finalising negotiations on the Seventh Framework Programme. This programme includes some essential elements of the Action Plan, such as research, innovation, and, to an extent, human resources. I sincerely hope that Parliament has been engaged in serious negotiations and has advocated an appropriate role for nanoscience, both by defining the subject areas for research and by attempting to secure a substantial increase in research funding.
In this regard, there is one area which remains open and which the Action Plan defines as essential in securing the critical mass for infrastructure. It involves connecting universities, research organisations and industry and recommends that this objective be met through the use of existing mechanisms. In the meantime, a lively debate has been sparked about what is called the European Institute of Technology, which is a further development of this idea concerned with securing the critical mass with an emphasis on human resources.
We have to take account of the well–considered conclusions that have already been reached about nanosciences and nanotechnologies when deciding on the development of future mechanisms for securing the critical mass. In this respect, I would like to stress that we need to facilitate cooperation both with those groups that have already demonstrated research excellence and with those that have a great potential to achieve excellence over a relatively short period of time. Nanosciences and nanotechnologies can serve as one of the test areas for establishing an ever closer relationship between the three sides of what is known as the knowledge triangle.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on a splendid piece of work.
Lambert van Nistelrooij (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, according to the latest survey by the World Economic Forum, the capacity to innovate accounts for some 30% of the highly-developed countries’ competitiveness, and that is particularly true in the case of nanotechnology. Its use in medicine, for example, opens up possibilities of improved treatments for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which, together, account for two-thirds of deaths in Europe.
This is a field in which Europe’s research institutions and businesses are world leaders; in the Netherlands alone, the nanotech industry achieves a turnover of EUR 20 billion, and the government is investing record amounts in it, for example in the ‘Centre for Molecular Medicine’ in Eindhoven. As an example of a pro-active strategy, with the sort of attitude that world development and competition are crying out for, businesses are doing likewise.
The need for choices to be made, for investment, and for support to be given to European basic infrastructure – all these things are expressed well in the Ransdorf report. It follows that the task for the Commission, for the Member States, and for the regional authorities is to work together with industry and SMEs to ensure that this is put into practice in industrial production in this part of the world. The Seventh Framework Programme for research and development, the European technology platforms and the 'regions of knowledge', together with the Structural Funds, have laid a good foundation, particularly where finance is concerned. Then there are the risks. These must, of course, be considered, particularly at the global level within UNESCO and the OECD.
Finally, this autumn sees Commissioner Potočnik embarking on a roadmap for research infrastructure, which should reveal which regions, areas or clusters really do have the potential to meet the challenge of global competition. Investment is not about a global ‘brain drain’, but should, on the ground, result in a ‘brain gain’ – a gain for the European economy and for the prosperity of Europe’s people.
Janez Potočnik, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I should like, in a telegraphic way, to respond to and summarise what I think is the message from today’s debate concerning innovation, funding, risks, ethics and the regulatory framework. I shall take them one by one.
On innovation, there is no doubt that nanosciences and nanotechnologies have a very high potential. Nanosciences are very much like information technology. So a breakthrough in this area would provide results for all sectors. That is why it is very important to pay close attention to innovation.
If we were to compare ourselves to the United States, we would find that in many areas we are not lagging behind. However, the one area in which we are truly lagging behind is information technology. If you look at how much money we provide for innovation, research and development, you would find that even structurally, not just globally, we are lagging behind. We should not make the same mistake when it comes to innovation.
We are trying to engage European technology platforms, joint technology initiatives – in which we are very active – and the companies from that area. I agree that the intellectual property issue, IPR, is also important and that is why it has received special attention in the action plan.
Let me now turn to funding. We have two themes which are dealing with that very seriously. One is, of course, nanosciences and nanotechnologies and the other is information and communication technologies. However, there is more than that. There are also the questions that will be dealt with in the European Research Council, in the people programme, in the capacities programme, and in infrastructure – the things connected with regional development. So it is very hard to compare the money that was devoted today to FP6 with the money that will be used in FP7. What I can tell you is that the funding will be increased considerably in comparison with the existing situation.
Again, if we compare the funding in Europe to that in the United States, we must not forget that the framework programme is 5% of European public funding. Therefore, it is obvious, if you compare how much public funding is provided for nanosciences, that it is 30% of that public funding in Europe. Obviously, we are giving it proportionally much higher attention than the Member States are doing. That has to be clearly underlined.
Secondly, in normal circumstances, two thirds of funding should come from the private sector, where we have to focus our attention. So here one of the things we found out – and it was published in August 2006 – was what the decisive elements are according to the companies doing the research in the area of Europe: first, the existence of the market; and second, the knowledge pool, not the wage level. The wage level is almost irrelevant when we talk about knowledge and research and development. These are the areas which need attention.
Thirdly, concerning the risks, it is true that we do not know everything and it would be hypocritical to say that we do, because it is not true. However, we know a lot, and I agree with all those who said that we need to pay proper attention to that in FP7. In the action plan we have also paid proper attention to the questions connected with the risks. Informal collection of inputs for further projects under FP7 has recently been completed. It is also extremely important that the way in which we approach questions of risk should be transparent and that we educate people in the proper way.
Concerning ethics, it is quite clear that we have to maintain the high ethical standards and principles that we have always followed and pay proper attention to that.
Finally, on the regulatory framework, regulatory issues again form an integral part of the action plan. They are concentrated there and the Commission is working in close collaboration with research DGs and DGs active in regulatory aspects, and with external experts, with a view to addressing various uncertainties with regard to potential hazards and exposure, to addressing gaps in knowledge, and to further developing guidelines and methods. The adequacy of existing and future legislation with regard to nanotechnology products is also being examined carefully.
To summarise, without any doubt we need a balanced approach, which is transparent, with a high level of care for public health, safety, the environment and consumer protection, but aimed at exploiting the huge potential of nanosciences and nanotechnologies in research and innovation. Today’s report was a very good opportunity to underline all these components of our approach and I should like to thank honourable Members for their attention to these issues, for the support given to our work and for the concerns they have raised.