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Mourou, Hell, Hänsch slam EC's proposed 30% funding cut for photonics

28 Oct 2020

Photonics Nobel winners warn jobs, growth, and new healthcare "at risk" due to EC plan to slash science funding in Horizon Europe budget.

Three of the world’s most eminent scientists have criticized the European Commission’s intention to drastically cut photonics funding over the next seven years. They argue that digital innovation, which drives economic growth and creates jobs all across Europe will “be at risk” if the budget to fund the enabling technologies in photonics is slashed.

Without adequate funding, 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 – warn the four overarching European Union objectives will be “seriously scuppered.”

The Nobel Prize Winners say, in the letter sent in mid-October, that 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.”

'Informed sources'

In an open letter to the European Commission, professors Mourou, Hell, and Hänsch heavily criticize the EC’s recent decision to make a 30% reduction in funding support by European Commission for a future Photonics Partnership 2021-2027 in Horizon Europe, the successor funding plan to the current Horizon 2020 program.

The letter – addressed to Vice-President Commissioner Vestager, Commissioner Breton, Commissioner Gabriel and the College of European Commissioners – says the cuts will seriously compromise initiatives that are strategically important to ensure Europe’s competitiveness.

“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,” say the Nobel Prize winners in Physics and Chemistry.

Condemning the planned move as “not consistent with the planned support for other key digital partnerships”, the Nobel Laureates highlight that the proposed reduced investment figure would represent only 35% of what the Photonics industry requested for 2021-2027.

'30 per cent reduction'

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 for the Horizon 2020 period of 2014-2020.

While the current Photonics PPP was funded to the sum of €700 million over seven years – already one of the smallest budgets for a key digital technology PPP over the period 2014-2020. By comparison, the allocated budget for the Microelectronics PPP was €2.5 billion over the same period.

The recent European Commission industry strategy “A New Industrial Strategy for Europe” clearly recognized Photonics technologies as a key enabling technology for the digital transformation of European industry stating, “The EU will support the development of key enabling technologies that are strategically important for Europe’s industrial future… including Photonics. “

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.

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