EU unveils lead markets initiative

The European Commission has put forward plans to foster the growth of six emerging technology sectors, including renewable energies and bio-based products. The Lead Markets Initiative for Europe (LMI) could more than double the turnover of the six industries from Euro120 billion (91 billion) to Euro300 billion by 2020, and could create one million new jobs, the Commission says. 

The aim of the initiative is to set standards and streamline regulations for each sector in the hope of spurring their growth - in the same way that the GSM standard (which allows the interoperability of mobile phone networks) has helped Europe's mobile phone industry to thrive. 

For bio-based products - which include bioplastics, lubricants, surfactants, enzymes and drugs - the Commission plans to develop standards and labelling, and ensure there are cost-effective criteria in place to assess the products. It will also launch a media campaign to promote their benefits and partly fund pilot bio-refinery plants. 

EuropaBio, the European biotech industry trade association, welcomed the initiative. 'If policy makers get it right, bio-based products and biotechnology can be the key which unlocks the door to an environmental and economical sustainable future for Europe,' said Johan Vanhemelrijck, EuropaBio's secretary general. 

On renewables, which includes biofuels as well as solar, wind and wave power, the Commission says it will push for planning and certification barriers to be removed. It will also introduce legislation requiring new buildings to use renewable energy, and may also provide funding to help get new renewables technology to the market. 

The other areas that have been selected are sustainable construction, eHealth, protective textiles and recycling.  

The success of the programme will largely depend on member states' willingness to implement the project's initiatives. A progress report on the LMI will be published in 2009, with an independent evaluation due in 2011. 

Ananyo Bhattacharya