LONDON-Next month in Stockholm the 19 members of the Eureka project will discuss whether to accept non-European countries. If they agree to an expansion, the fledgling research enterprise will have taken another big step toward its goal of stimulating collaboration among nations on high technology projects.
The Eureka project is meant to force collaborative research and development partnerships between companies drawn from at least two different European nations. The goal is to develop new commercial products quickly. Most projects involve information technology, the area where Europe perceives the greatest risk from SDI and from Japanese efforts to develop fifth-generation computers.
Eureka began life in the spring of 1985 as a French response to U.S. efforts to woo Western Europe into its Strategic Defense Initiative. The French have refused to join "Star Wars" but recognized the economic threat posed by a major new U.S. initiative in advanced technology.
Eureka has not had an easy time of it. France's European neighbors initially questioned the country's willingness to work cooperatively on technical matters. And, unlike the American initiative, Eureka did not have a single, clear focus.
But the economic threat from abroad convinced the various nations to reach agreement on the French proposal. In June 40 ministers from 19 countries consummated a marriage in London under the chairmanship of Paul Channon, secretary for industry.
The 19 agreed on a "framework for collaboration" that will draw upon a pool of experience accumulated during three decades of technological collaboration by European industry. They also pledged a total of about $2 billion of public and private cash to a first group of 62 research projects, aimed at improving the international competitiveness of European industry. Britain has said it will provide as much as 50 percent of the cost of research projects, and up to 25 percent for development.
The French government has pledged the largest subsidy, about $500 million, followed by $200 million from West Germany. Britain is considering a pledge of $75 million a year.
In addition to the 12 members of the European Economic Community, Eureka embraces Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Iceland. An application from Yugoslavia was turned down because the country does not have a market-based economy.
The French in the past have objected strongly to expansion beyond Europe. However, an invitation has already been extended to Israel. A more pragmatic guideline may prove to be whether a given non-European company has a re search base within Europe and can therefore be considered a valuable part of the European industrial R&D culture.
Geoffrey Pattie, Britain's minister responsible for high-technology, said Airbus and the European space program demonstrate "the power and potential of Europe acting together as a technological and industrial force."
Although Europe failed in its efforts to develop a reactor competitive with U.S. designs of light water reactors, it succeeded in developing an internationally competitive gas centrifuge process for the enrichment of uranium reactor fuel. Since 1970 the nuclear industries of Britain, West Germany and the Netherlands have collaborated through a tri-national company called Urenco to exploit an enrichment technology they now claim as "the lowest-cost process in the world."
Another successful collaborative program which helps underpin Eureka is Esprit, the European Strategic Program of Research in Information Technology, a program of pre-competitive research for which the EEC puts up half the cost. It began with a dozen leading European electronics companies agreeing to collaborate-often for the first time-in a common program of "enabling technology" necessary for the electronics industry of the 1990s. By 1984 Esprit had become a $2 billion, five-year program.
Esprit has been successful enough to spawn plans for a second five-year program, Esprit 2. It has also spawned RACE (Research and development in Advanced Communications technology for Europe), with 31 projects and a budget of $30 million through 1990.
Eureka's initial group of projects includes commercial targets as diverse as the use of ceramic parts in gas turbines (backed by France, Italy and Sweden), a fishing vessel for the year 2000 (involving France, Spain and Norway), a malaria vaccine (France and West Germany) and new varieties of sunflower seed, rich in oil but toler ant of arid conditions (France and Spain). The average project cost for the program is about $40 million.
One of the bigger projects is Prometheus, a concept for safer and more efficient road traffic control France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom are joint partners in the project, which is expected to take eight years and which has been allocated about $6 million in the first year.
Fishlock is with the Financial Times of London.