The European Institute of Innovation and Technology – a Valuable Initiative to Promote the Blossoming of Innovation in Europe?

bridges vol. 36, December 2012 / Feature Articles

By Christina Knahr

EIT LogoThe European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)  is a relatively young institution in the European research and innovation landscape. Based on a concept of President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, the EIT was established in April 2008. The mission of the EIT is "to increase European sustainable growth and competitiveness by reinforcing the innovation capacity of the EU." Structurally this should be accomplished through integration of the so-called "knowledge triangle" – (1) Higher Education, (2) Research & Technology, and (3) Business – at the European level.

The present article will examine how this concept has been applied, how it has worked in practice thus far, and to what extent the EIT has been able to meet the expectations laid upon it by European policy makers and stakeholders to contribute to a more innovative Europe. Further, we will ask whether some aspects of EIT might still be improved, particularly in light of the upcoming integration of the EIT into "Horizon 2020," the new European Framework Program for Research and Innovation.

Organizational Structure

Structurally, two layers are essential for the functioning of the EIT – the Governing Board and the operational entities, the so-called Knowledge and Innovation Communities, or KICs.

The overall strategy of the EIT is determined by the Governing Board, which consists of 22 members and is currently chaired by Alexander von Gabain. Among its other responsibilities, the Governing Board is in charge of selecting and designating KICs (see in more detail below). In addition, the EIT has a director, currently José Manuel Leceta, who leads the operations of the EIT at its headquarters in Budapest, Hungary.

The implementation of the EIT's mission takes place primarily within its operational entities, the KICs. Each KIC has a specific thematic focus. A KIC has to consist of at least three independent partner organizations, with the partners being established in at least three different EU Member States and including at least one higher education partner and one private company. To enable broad participation, KICs may also include partners from non-Member States.

The knowledge triangle: Higher Education, Research & Technology, and BusinessThe establishment of KICs requires several steps. First, the European Commission provides the "starting shot" by determining specific themes that potential KICs should address. It then issues a Call for Proposals, to which interested universities, companies, etc. can respond. Following a highly competitive selection process, KICs are designated by the EIT Governing Board. In a final step, designated KICs enter into negotiations and sign a contract with the EIT. Currently in place are three KICs, which were designated in 2009 and will continue to run for several more years; they are: (1) Climate-KIC, (2) KIC InnoEnergy, and (3) EIT ICT Labs. With the integration of the EIT into Horizon 2020, the European Commission has proposed establishing up to six additional KICs between 2014 and 2020. According to the Commission, the themes for the "first wave" of new KICs, scheduled to become operational on January 1, 2014, should be: (1) Innovation for Healthy Living and Active Aging, (2) Food4Future, and (3) Raw Materials. A final decision, however, has not yet been made and will depend on the outcome of budgetary negotiations currently being conducted. Following an interim evaluation, a "second wave" of KICs should be established in 2018, according to the current proposal focusing on: (1) Urban Mobility, (2) Added-value Manufacturing, and (3) Smart Secure Societies. However, no final decision has been made in this regard.

There is no mandatory requirement on the part of the EIT regarding the legal status of KICs. Rather, KICs have the autonomy to individually determine their internal organization and choose the form of legal entity they prefer. Due to this individual discretion, each of the three KICs currently in place has a different legal setup: The Climate KIC is registered as a Dutch limited liability nonprofit association, the EIT ICT Labs is a Belgian limited liability nonprofit association, and the KIC InnoEnergy is a commercial company under Dutch law. According to the ideas of its creators, KICs should be run as businesses. This business orientation of KICs is demonstrated by the fact that all KICs are led by CEOs and have business plans setting out their strategies and targets.

In order to most efficiently fulfill its tasks, each KIC consists of several Co-location Centers, i.e., geographical locations where the partners of the knowledge triangle come together and can work in proximity. As with the KICs' legal status, there is no mandatory requirement as to exactly how many co-location centers one KIC must have. The current KICs have five (Climate KIC) or six (EIT ICT Labs and KIC InnoEnergy) co-location centers respectively. In total, Climate KIC currently has 20 core partners and 91 affiliate partners; the EIT ICT Labs bring together 27 core partners and 44 affiliate partners; and the KIC InnoEnergy is a partnership of 30 universities, 15 research centers, and 55 industries.

As for financing, the EIT has a rather distinctive setup. The budget allocated to the EIT by the European Union for the 2008-2013 period is €308.7 million. With regard to financing of the KICs, it is important to note that the EIT only provides for approximately 25 percent of the KICs' overall budgets, the remaining 75 percent of funding has to be acquired by the KICs themselves from private and/or public partners. Finally, EIT funding for KICs is only available for a maximum of 7-15 years, after which KICs have to be self-sustainable.

According to the 2011 Annual Report, the total EIT Contributions to KICs in 2010-2012 were €777.4 million. These funds came from the following sources – EIT Grant awarded: €167.4 million (21.5%); contribution from partners: €299.1 million (38.5%); contribution from national/ regional government: €167.2 million (21.5%); contribution from other EU budgetary sources (EU/non EIT): €104.6 million (13.5%); other sources: €39.1 million (5%).

2014: EIT becomes part of Horizon 2020

The EIT was introduced as part of the legislative package on Horizon 2020 that was adopted by the European Commission in November 2011, and as of January 1, 2014, it will become an integral part of the new European Framework Program for Research and Innovation, "Horizon 2020."

Preparations for including the EIT in Horizon 2020 are already well under way. Achieving integration of the EIT into Horizon 2020 will require two important formal steps: First, the original Regulation establishing the EIT will have to be amended; secondly, the Strategic Innovation Agenda (SIA) – a document that outlines the strategic long-term goals of the EIT during the next Multi-annual Financial Framework 2014-2020 and establishes the priorities of the EIT, its governance structure, and its funding – will have to be negotiated. Negotiations on both documents are currently ongoing as part of, and thus also dependent upon the progress and outcome of, the negotiations on the entire legislative package of Horizon 2020.

In integrating the EIT into Horizon 2020, several aspects must be considered. First, being a part of Horizon 2020, the EIT will also contribute to addressing the societal challenges identified in Horizon 2020. Second, not only the rules of participation but also the provisions on monitoring and evaluation applicable to Horizon 2020 will apply to the EIT. Last, but certainly not least, integrating the EIT into Horizon 2020 implies that the budget for the EIT will come from Horizon 2020. The exact amount to be allocated to the EIT is currently still under negotiation. According to the original Commission Proposal of November 30, 2011, the allocation should be €3.18 billion for 2014-2020 (€1.35 billion for 2014-2017, and €1.45 billion for 2018-2020, the second part of which will be released after a midterm review of EIT). At this point, however, is very likely that the budgetary negotiations will lead to a reduction in the amount originally proposed by the Commission.

The EIT – bound to succeed?

EIT Entrepreneurship Awards, 21 February 2012, BrusselsThe overall setup of the EIT clearly differentiates it from EU initiatives that previously existed to promote research and innovation. Designed specifically to be an independent body of the EU, rather than yet another research promotion program, and with a clear focus on the integration of the knowledge triangle, the EIT is indisputably different from other initiatives. While the EIT does share the same goals of encouraging research and increasing innovation at the European level, the setting it provides to achieve these goals is one that did not previously exist in the European research landscape.

While a final assessment of the EIT is certainly premature at this point, a brief inquiry into the first two years of its operation seems to be valid, particularly in light of the changes that lie ahead in the context of integrating the EIT into Horizon 2020 as of January 2014. One core question is whether the EIT has been able to live up to expectations and whether it will be able achieve the goals envisaged by the European Commission.

Given its two-tiered structure, both levels should be examined in assessing the EIT's performance thus far: first, the governance level (performance of the Governing Board, its interaction with the European Commission as well as the KICs, etc.), and second, the operational level (performance of the KICs, their ability to implement the goals of the EIT, etc.).

In order to identify possible deficiencies and make suggestions for improvement, an independent evaluation of the EIT was conducted in 2011. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in detail all the factors examined in that comprehensive evaluation. Nonetheless, what should be mentioned here is that the picture painted by the evaluation was, overall, a positive one. Although the experts did find room for improvement regarding certain aspects of both the governance and operational levels, they clearly reached the conclusion that the EIT is on the right track and that one can be optimistic about its future activities.

The following results illustrate early successes and first achievements of the three existing KICs: For example, since 2010 KIC InnoEnnergy had filed 20 patents and increased its industry partnerships from 14 in 2010, to 55 in 2011, to 95 in 2012;1 two Climate KIC projects have been awarded seed funding through a business plan competition;2 and, with regard to the educational aspect of the KICs, in 2011 the EIT ICT Labs had established 7 EIT-labeled Master of Science programs and 283 students are already enrolled in its summer schools. 3

Concluding remarks and outlook

Only a few years into its existence, it is certainly too early to reach any conclusive judgment on the EIT, but some observations are already possible. When looking at work carried out by the three currently existing KICs in the past few years, one clearly recognizes the first signs of success. These KICs have attracted an impressive number of partners from all three corners of the knowledge triangle as well as from a considerable number of countries. They are well on track in their efforts to implement the primary objective of the EIT: to promote innovation through integration of the knowledge triangle.

Undoubtedly the EIT still has some growing pains to overcome, and there will be bumps in the road ahead. However, if the KICs continue on their current paths and the commitment of everyone involved in their functioning (as well as the functioning of the EIT as a whole) remains strong, one can be confident that future challenges will be tackled successfully. The EIT seems to be a worthwhile initiative – one that can complement existing funding and support schemes for promoting research and innovation in Europe and is likely to make valuable contributions to European research and innovation.


The author, Christina Knahr, works at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth, in the Unit RTI-Strategy and International Research and Technology Cooperations. 


1. See "KIC InnoEnergy: Achievements and FAQ," presentation by Diego Pavia (CEO KIC InnoEnergy) at EIT Awareness Day in Vienna, Austria, October 15, 2012.

2. See "Building Bridges: The EIT in a nutshell," presentation by Alexander von Gabain (Chairman of the EIT Governing Board) at EIT Awareness Day, Vienna, Austria, October 15, 2012.

3. See "EIT ICT Labs", presentation by Laure Le Bars (CEO EIT ICT Labs) at EIT Awareness Day in Vienna, Austria, October 15, 2012.


Further References:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and innovation (2014-2020), COM(2011) 809; Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the Specific Programme implementing Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020), COM(2011) 811; Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the rules for the participation and dissemination in Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020), COM(2011) 810; Proposal for a Council Regulation on the Research and Training Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (2014-2018) complementing Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, COM(2011) 812.

Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Regulation (EC) No 294/2008 establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, COM(2011) 817 final.

Proposal for a DECISION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the Strategic Innovation Agenda of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT): the contribution of the EIT to a more innovative Europe, COM(2011) 822 final.

External Evaluation of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, Final Report on Evaluation, May 2011