11 May 2016
Retiring president Mertin suggests the role is a balancing act.
Michael Mertin, Photonics 21 president.
Reflecting on the past four years in charge, Mertin, whose day job is CEO at Jenoptik, commented, “I was asked to be president at an interesting time, when Photonics21 was a relatively free platform, but not really a formal association. Therefore, together with the support of the European Commission, we established the Photonics21 Public Private Partnership (PPP) with an Executive Board and a Board of Stakeholders that represent the whole Photonics21 community.”
When asked about the achievements of his presidency, Mertin listed the establishment of a functioning and growing bottom-up PPP structure, the development of the strategic Horizon2020 program in collaboration with the European Commission, and increasing awareness of photonics as a key enabling technology for the European industry.
“Europe is confronted with a highly ambitious task,” he said, “which is to ensure that the EU strengthens its innovative power in industry sectors by creating an appropriate framework to encourage the new industries of tomorrow, like the photonics industry and its enabling role in the transformation of many industrial processes, products and applications.”
Considering the next phase of Photonics21, after November 2016, Mertin explained, “Guenther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Economy & Society, shares my view in his Digital Agenda for Europe, which is that in order to generate growth and wealth across Europe, the goal of deriving 20% of its GDP from industrial output by 2020 must be achieved.
“Therefore Photonics21 will shift its focus more toward industrial applications in order to bridge the so called valley of death. This means that Europe must increase its market share in the successful invention and production of goods – an area still dominated by the USA and Asia – an thereby overcome the fact that Europe’s strength so far has mainly been in developing technological advantages.”
He added, “For all this to happen, Europe needs to create an industrial-friendly environment that allows private investments to further accelerate the innovation and technology-driven global economy. This includes imposing industrial regulations such as the REACH, creating free global trade, pivoting toward a market economy, and reducing the amount of regulations.”
On the question what role risk-taking plays in the future of Europe’s economic development, Mertin said “We need a more risk-taking business environment. In California, for instance, it is not only easier for entrepreneurs to start a business and to attract funding, but also to be able to fail and still receive funding from investors. The same is true for China.
“Europe has to be aware of the different risk strategies around the world and rather enable entrepreneurs in doing business by reducing regulation, offering more risk-capital, and providing an infrastructure necessary to become a globally interesting place to do business. If we do not do that in due time, we will not be competitive with less regulated, more risk-taking, and more innovative business environments.”
Not usually a man to express political viewpoints, Mertin did have something to say about the current debate in the UK, ahead of that country’s referendum on continued EU membership. “I can understand that some people in the UK do not appreciate the overregulation in Europe," he said. "But my view is that we need a joint Europe for all of us and to be able to work together to address these issues; just to simply leave is not going to help achieve that aim. We need to work together to make Europe more transparent; I would like to see a more unified Europe especially at the strategic level."
New president wanted
Photonics 21’s website is already hosting a job description to attract applicants for the next presidential term. The process will be steered by the Photonics21 Executive Board.
The diplomatic organization is sensitive to the possibility that some would-be presidents might be embarrassed if they applied and were turned down. So the appointment process will see only one candidate being put before the Board of Stakeholders for voting, following the Nomination Committee selection process – to avoid “loss of face for a company board-level person to be voted down”. Applications will be treated confidentially.
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor tooptics.org.