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March 16, 2016

European Economic and Social Committee Publishes Opinion on Nanotechnology for a Competitive Chemical Industry

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The February 24, 2016, Official Journal of the European Union includes the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on “Nanotechnology for a competitive chemical industry.”  The opinion addresses nanotechnology in an innovative Europe; nanotechnology in the chemical industry and medicine; nanotechnology as an economic component; nanotechnology as an environmental component; nanotechnology as an employment/social component; opportunities and risks associated with nanotechnology; and competitiveness factors/stimulus for nanotechnology in Europe.  It includes the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • The EESC supports the activities for developing a European industrial policy and in particular those supporting key enabling technologies (KET) that strengthen European competitiveness;
  • An initiative to promote nanotechnology can also help further develop common European industrial policy. Research and development are so complex that they cannot be undertaken by individual companies or institutions working alone.  They require overarching cooperation between universities, scientific institutions, companies, and business incubators.  Research hubs, such as those set up in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector, are a positive approach. It must be ensured that small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are included;
  • European clusters of excellence (nanoclusters) should be further developed to support nanotechnology. Specialists from the world of business, science, politics, and society must form networks to promote technology transfer, digital and person-to-person cooperation, better risk assessment, a special life-cycle analysis, and the safety of nano products.  The financial instruments provided for in the Horizon 2020 research framework program relating to the area of nanotechnology must be made simpler and more flexible, particularly for SMEs.  Public financing must be reinforced and the supply of private capital stimulated;
  • To anchor multidisciplinary nanotechnology better within education and training systems, qualified scientists and technicians from disciplines such as chemistry, biology, engineering, medicine, or the social sciences should be involved. Businesses must meet their staff’s growing need for qualifications through targeted initial and further training measures.  Employees, with their experience and competences, should be included;
  • The European Union standardization process should be further boosted. Standards play a key role in ensuring compliance with laws, particularly where employee safety requires a risk assessment.  Tools should therefore be devised for certified reference materials to test the procedures for measuring the characteristics of nanomaterials;
  • Consumers should be fully informed about nanomaterials. It is essential to promote acceptance of these key enabling technologies.  Regular dialogues must take place between consumer and environmental organizations, businesses, and politicians.  Pan-European information platforms and tools for increasing acceptance must be developed to this end; and
  • The EESC expects the European Commission to set up an observatory to record and evaluate the development processes, applications, use (recycling), and disposal of nanomaterials. It should also monitor and assess the impact on employment and the labor market and describe the political, economic, and social conclusions to be drawn.  An up-to-date ‘Report on nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in Europe’ should be presented before 2020, identifying development trends to 2030.