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"The Twin City Headquarters"

Austria and Slovakia join forces in the run for the headquarters of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology
bridges vol. 17, April 2008 / Letter from Brussels

by Martin Schmid

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Martin Schmid

Some may recall the December 2006 Letter from Brussels analyzing the European Commission's proposal for regulating the establishment of the EIT. Sixteen months later, on April 9, 2008, the regulation was published in the EU's official journal, having finally been adopted unanimously by the 27 Member States and the European Parliament. Now called the European Institute of Innovation and Technology to emphasize its main goal of boosting Europe's innovation capacity, the institute will still use the abbreviation "EIT."


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Some may also know that the concept of the EIT is no longer to create a European Research University, following the example of MIT. Instead, it is projected to become a network of "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs) with the challenge of combining higher education, research, and innovation at the highest level of excellence. The central structure will consist of only about 60 people, possibly increasing to 100 at a later stage. The EIT will have to deal with the selection, designation, and monitoring of the KICs and will have to ensure the coherence of the network. Although not large in terms of personnel, the headquarters of the EIT might have considerable significance as a symbol for Europe's efforts to become "the most competitive knowledge-based society in the world," as it was phrased by the famous European Council of Lisbon in 2000. Hence, hosting the EIT might contribute to the image of the host city as a place for science, research, and innovation. But which city are we talking about?

 

Until recently, Wroclav (Poland), Budapest, and Vienna were the leading contenders. On April 1, 2008, a new possibility - surprising to many - was added to the competition for the EIT headquarters when Austrian Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and his Slovakian counterpart Prime Minister Robert Fico presented the joint candidacy of Bratislava and Vienna for the "Twin City Headquarters" of the EIT. Some thought it was an April Fools' joke, but a closer look reveals a sound and charming concept. The joint candidacy is a real European project, taking advantage of the unique geographical situation of two capital cities, both situated on the Danube, only 60 km apart. The two cities, from an old and a new Member State of the EU, have cooperated closely in various fields and at several levels in recent years within the "Twin City" concept. Their joint candidacy therefore truly shows the spirit of European Integration. At the same time, the two cities have worked out a concept to divide the bodies of the EIT in a way that avoids additional administrative burdens.

 

In practical terms, the joint candidacy means that the four main bodies are equally divided between the two cities. The meetings of the Governing Board (GB), which is the EIT's main decision-making body, will be held in Bratislava. Also to be situated in Bratislava is the internal auditing function, a body designed to advise the GB and the director on financial and administrative management and control structures within the EIT. The director, the executive committee, and the rest of the staff will be situated in Vienna in a modern and well equipped building called "Tech Gate" close to the UN facilities.

 

The decision on the seat for the EIT headquarters will have to be made unanimously by the Member States of the EU. The Slovenian Council Presidency is willing to reach a decision by June 2008, putting it on the agenda for the meeting of the Competitiveness Council on May 30. If the Presidency manages to reach an agreement by June, the announcement could be made together with those of the members of the GB, in which case all necessary decisions to launch the EIT will be in place by summer. The race will certainly stay thrilling until the end!

 

I started this article with a reference to the December 2006 Letter from Brussels. It was a critical review, calling into question issues about the EIT such as the added value, the necessary public funding, the commitment of industry, and the maturity of the concept in general. Have all these questions been answered positively? If not, why has the regulation been adopted? Let me close with a brief attempt to answer this concern.

 

To begin with, some may also know that the concept of the EIT is no longer to create a European Research University, following the example of MIT. Instead, it is projected to become a network of "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs) with the challenge of combining higher education, research, and innovation at the highest level of excellence. The central structure will consist of only about 60 people, possibly increasing to 100 at a later stage. The EIT will have to deal with the selection, designation, and monitoring of the KICs and will have to ensure the coherence of the network. Although not large in terms of personnel, the headquarters of the EIT might have considerable significance as a symbol for Europe's efforts to become "the most competitive knowledge-based society in the world," as it was phrased by the famous European Council of Lisbon in 2000. Hence, hosting the EIT might contribute to the image of the host city as a place for science, research, and innovation. But which city are we talking about?

 

Until recently, Wroclav (Poland), Budapest, and Vienna were the leading contenders. On April 1, 2008, a new possibility - surprising to many ¬- was added to the competition for the EIT headquarters when Austrian Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and his Slovakian counterpart Prime Minister Robert Fico presented the joint candidacy of Bratislava and Vienna for the "Twin City Headquarters" of the EIT. Some thought it was an April Fools' joke, but a closer look reveals a sound and charming concept. The joint candidacy is a real European project, taking advantage of the unique geographical situation of two capital cities, both situated on the Danube, only 60 km apart. The two cities, from an old and a new Member State of the EU, have cooperated closely in various fields and at several levels in recent years within the "Twin City" concept. Their joint candidacy therefore truly shows the spirit of European Integration. At the same time, the two cities have worked out a concept to divide the bodies of the EIT in a way that avoids additional administrative burdens.

 

In practical terms, the joint candidacy means that the four main bodies are equally divided between the two cities. The meetings of the Governing Board (GB), which is the EIT's main decision-making body, will be held in Bratislava. Also to be situated in Bratislava is the internal auditing function, a body designed to advise the GB and the director on financial and administrative management and control structures within the EIT. The director, the executive committee, and the rest of the staff will be situated in Vienna in a modern and well equipped building called "Tech Gate" close to the UN facilities.

 

The decision on the seat for the EIT headquarters will have to be made unanimously by the Member States of the EU. The Slovenian Council Presidency is willing to reach a decision by June 2008, putting it on the agenda for the meeting of the Competitiveness Council on May 30. If the Presidency manages to reach an agreement by June, the announcement could be made together with those of the members of the GB, in which case all necessary decisions to launch the EIT will be in place by summer. The race will certainly stay thrilling until the end!

 

I started this article with a reference to the December 2006 Letter from Brussels. It was a critical review, calling into question issues about the EIT such as the added value, the necessary public funding, the commitment of industry, and the maturity of the concept in general. Have all these questions been answered positively? If not, why has the regulation been adopted? Let me close with a brief attempt to answer this concern.

 

To begin with, some things have indeed developed positively. The regulation was changed significantly during the negotiations. The establishment of the EIT is now a step-by-step process, starting with the establishment of only two or three KICs between now and 2013. The independence of the KICs has been increased significantly, and a strategic implementation plan has been added to the governance concept. Not least among the accomplishments, a pilot action supposed to design, implement, and test new models of cooperation with a view to the creation of KICs has attracted substantial participation by industry as well as academia. Fifty-three proposals have been submitted, for networks involving nearly 540 organizations. The mechanism for selecting excellent people as members of the Governing Board, and placing in their hands the development of concrete concepts, mechanisms, and rules, has also been widely accepted.

 

The Governing Board now being selected will therefore start with an enormous amount of trust, and will have to work hard to justify this trust in the process of trying to get the EIT off the ground. Assuming that the Letter from Brussels will look in on the EIT after another 16 months, it should be able to report on the creation of the first KICs.

 

To begin with, some things have indeed developed positively. The regulation was changed significantly during the negotiations. The establishment of the EIT is now a step-by-step process, starting with the establishment of only two or three KICs between now and 2013. The independence of the KICs has been increased significantly, and a strategic implementation plan has been added to the governance concept. Not least among the accomplishments, a pilot action supposed to design, implement, and test new models of cooperation with a view to the creation of KICs has attracted substantial participation by industry as well as academia. Fifty-three proposals have been submitted, for networks involving nearly 540 organizations. The mechanism for selecting excellent people as members of the Governing Board, and placing in their hands the development of concrete concepts, mechanisms, and rules, has also been widely accepted.

 

The Governing Board now being selected will therefore start with an enormous amount of trust, and will have to work hard to justify this trust in the process of trying to get the EIT off the ground. Assuming that the Letter from Brussels will look in on the EIT after another 16 months, it should be able to report on the creation of the first KICs.

 

***

Martin Schmid is a member of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture. Since July 2005 Schmid has been working as attaché for scientific affairs at the Austrian Representation to the EU in Brussels.

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