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  1. Technology
November 28, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

In a significant shift of emphasis, the Esprit European research and development programme will concentrate in future on a limited number of key projects in an effort to bring more products to market, Mark John reports from Brussels. The change of focus entails several elements, including a possibly unprecedented decision to consider participation in the proposed Japanese project in the area of computerintegrated manufacturing technology, and the creation of an open and non-profit European Software Institute spearheaded by Compagnie des Machines Bull, Ing C Olivetti & Co SpA and Siemens-Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG. Other areas likely to be affected include the Joint European Submicron Semiconductor Initiative, liquid crystal diode devices, speech technology and the European high definition television effort, Commission officials confirmed yesterday. Other sources that did not wish to be attributed suggested that this would lead to a reduction in the total number of projects sponsored as the Esprit programme moves into its third phase this year. The opinion appears to be common among programme officials that while Esprit broadly fills its role as a catalyst for pre-competitive research, it has so far failed to have any impact on the industry’s overall competitiveness, with one complaint being that decisions on which technologies are sponsored are made by those too far away from the grass roots of European information technology. Representatives of industry and Commission officials have used Esprit ’91 to stress the point that Europe is at an unfair disadvantage in its efforts to compete with Japan and the US. In Japan, for example, some technology companies have been blessed with 10year loans at a 1% interest rate, while computer research and development in the US has always received knockon benefits from a massive defence spend, estimated at $100,000m a year. The new European Commission decision to conduct a feasibility study on whether to join the Japanese initiative on intelligent manufacturing systems will be seen as a success for the Competition directorate headed by Sir Leon Britten, who recently called for more Euro-Japanese collaboration in technology. As for the proposed European Software Initiative, Bull managing director Francis Lorentz confirmed that he has already asked for funding from the Community on the project, whose aim will be to promote more advanced techniques for software development. If accepted, the project will be included in the next round of Esprit funding, which amounts to $1,070m and is to take the programme through to 1994.

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