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EU fails to back photonics

Worries over the impact of cuts to the European science budget has seen scientists, including Nobel Laureates, issue a warning about jobs, economic growth and the impact a budget cut could have on healthcare.

The Laureates who include Professor Gérard Albert Mourou, Professor Stefan W. Hell, and Professor Theodor W. Hänsch– all Nobel Prize winners for their work in the field of Photonics sciences - have heavily criticised the European Commission’s intention to drastically cut photonics funding over the next seven years.

Cuts to the budget funding the enabling technologies in photonics will have a massive impact on the region’s economy, they warn.

According to the scientists cutting investment in photonics – which is essential for powering high critical sectors like health, aerospace and transport – will be disastrous for Europe’s technological goals.

The European Commission is set to make a 30% reduction in funding support as part of a future Photonics Partnership 2021-2027 in Horizon Europe, the successor to the current Horizon 2020 programme.

In a letter to the commission the scientists said that these proposed cuts would seriously compromise initiatives that are strategically important to ensure Europe’s competitiveness.

“Without adequate funding, there can be no Europe fit for a Digital Age, no full digital sovereignty and no ultra-secure sovereign quantum computing enabled cybersecurity without photonics technologies” they warn.

The proposed budget represents just 35% of the Photonics industry requested budget for 2021-2027. The current figure proposed by the Commission for a new Photonics PPP is in the range of €500 million.

If confirmed, this represents a cut of over 30% on the already previous minimal budget of €700 million 2014-2020 which is already one of the smallest budgets for a key digital technology PPP over the period 2014-2020.

The budget cut comes after the publication of the European Commission industry strategy “A New Industrial Strategy for Europe” that recognised Photonics technologies as a key enabling technology for the digital transformation of European industry, while the European Investment Bank in a separate communication identified Photonics as one of the two key digital deep technologies that will provide the secure, sovereign and resilient digital infrastructure necessary for Europe.

Planning for a future, that after this year is going to look very different, is critical and if this budget is approved it looks like Europe is ceding a critical market to its overseas competitors.

Neil Tyler

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