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European strategy for the development of key enabling technologies

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European strategy for the development of key enabling technologies

The Commission proposes a common approach to the identification of key enabling technologies (KETs) and suggests both short term and long term measures to promote and strengthen the industrial and innovation capacities of the European Union (EU).


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 30 September 2009 – "Preparing for our future: Developing a common strategy for key enabling technologies in the EU" [COM(2009) 512 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


As part of the European Union (EU) innovation and industrial policy, the effective development and deployment of key enabling technologies (KETs) will be an important factor in the industrial and economic future of the EU. Until now there has been no common approach to the identification of KETs. The Commission therefore proposes a process of identifying the KETs that can be used to improve the industrial capacities of the EU, enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of the EU’s economy, and enable the EU to fulfil its ambition of becoming a principal player when facing global societal challenges.

The identification of KETs

There are differences between EU countries as to what should be considered as a KET. According to current global research and market trends, the Commission suggests a list of KETs that could be considered as the technologies most capable of improving the EU’s industrial competitiveness. The list includes nanotechnology, micro- and nanoelectronics, photonics, advanced materials and biotechnology.

These technologies need to be developed further to help the EU better address global societal challenges. The environmental impact of these technologies is important as energy efficient and low carbon technologies will help the EU reach its energy and climate change targets. Due to social concerns, however, legitimate health and environmental consequences of these KETs need to be addressed.

Lack of research and development (R&D) effectiveness in the EU

The EU trails behind the US and Japan in R&D intensity and in the high-tech industry, despite the considerable public R&D efforts that are undertaken in these areas. The Commission gives reasons why the current efforts are not producing adequate results:

  • the EU is not adequately effective in capitalising on its own R&D results relating to KETs;
  • a lack of public understanding and knowledge of KETs leads to environmental and health concerns about the development and use of such technologies;
  • the EU has a shortage of adequately qualified people in this area and has to ensure that its science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) graduate base is developing. The relationship between researchers, entrepreneurs and financial intermediaries needs to be enhanced in order to create incentives to commercialise research results and to reinforce the knowledge transfer between them;
  • there is a relatively low amount of venture capital funding and private investment in the EU available for KETs, especially in contrast to the funding in other regions;
  • a common long-term vision and more coordinated efforts between EU countries are needed in order to overcome the fragmentation of markets with regard to innovation. EU countries must collaborate more to extend the scale and scope of their individual technology policies.

Development and promotion of KETs in the EU

The Commission lists policy areas, which need to be addressed for the successful deployment of KETs:

  • increased focus on the promotion of innovation for KETs and an enhanced relationship between research output and industrial impact;
  • increased focus on the technology transfer between research institutions and industry, in particular SMEs, and making sure that high technologies manufactured in Europe enter the supply chain;
  • greater collaboration between EU countries, e.g. through joint strategic programming, and greater involvement of industry and users in these projects;
  • state aid policies that address market distortions;
  • encouraged use of KETs in the fight against climate change;
  • creation of a more favourable environment for a more effective capitalisation of research results by looking into the lead market initiative and public procurement as possible stimulators for enabling high technologies;
  • International comparison of high technology policies between EU countries and with other regions, such as the US, Japan, Russia, China and India, in order to identify best practices and scope for cooperation;
  • international trade policy to ensure favourable trade conditions on KETs;
  • stimulation of financial investment in high technology industry by encouraging the European Investment Bank (EIB) to facilitate loans to high-tech industries, exploiting the financial instruments of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and to promote public-private partnership in order to make venture capital available;
  • increased focus on education and vocational training in the area of new technologies to respond to the labour market needs and to ensure that the full potential of KETs is exploited.

The future of KETs in the EU

The European Union needs a shared and strategic vision on key enabling technologies. In the long term, key actors, i.e. the European institutions, EU countries, businesses and other stakeholders, need to work in partnership in order to ensure the successful deployment of European key enabling technologies by industries.

In the short term, the Community has to make best use of existing policies, such as state aid rules, trade aspects, access to financing mechanisms and the reinforcement of existing initiatives, in order to promote the commercialisation of key enabling technologies. In addition, the Commission has set up a high-level expert group which will assist the Commission in developing a long-term strategy on key enabling technologies and assess the competitive situation of KETs in the EU, analyse available R&D capacities and propose specific policy recommendations.

Last updated: 27.04.2010