EUROPE'S current economic recovery appears to have a new, necessary, and dynamic component. It is a high-technology research and development pooling effort by 17 of the Continent's most sophisticated technology producing states. Beyond the 12 members of the European Community are Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, and Norway; these 17 support the advanced computer and technology development program called Eureka. Too much emphasis has been put on the emergence of the Eureka program primarily as a European response to the United States and its Strategic Defensive Initiative since last fall. Although it is based on SDI-like technologies and stresses the advanced and successful European aerospace industries, Eureka will have a nonmilitary focal point and be more oriented to commercial exploitation of civil research. Eureka can play an instrumental part in bridging the technological gap between the US and Japa n on one side and Europe on the other. But it also can lead Europe to a greater future of economic well-being and more global independence.
The French-sponsored idea of this April was first a major maneuver to band the Europeans together on critical issues. What transpired in the next three months was tantamount to a historic breakthrough in European history. On July 17, non-Communist Europe led by Chancellor Kohl, Prime Minister Thatcher, and President Mitterrand agreed to finance a large-scale coordinated research program across national frontiers. Rather than continue with a series of relatively minor national endeavors that could never catch up with the US and Japan, Europe agreed at Paris to fund a multinational consortia of industries and launch a new era of technology cooperation. It is hoped this plan would end the transatlantic ``brain drain'' and uplift technology research to the top priority item for the next decade. The European strategy would aim to make 17 national markets into one giant single market and push Europe into the world high-tech trade leader.
While the emergence of Europe's alternative to ``star wars'' was partly due to the American ineptitude in presenting their initiative, Eureka was also possible because many Europeans have been searching for a vehicle of closer cooperation. If Europe was to avoid the imminent danger of being second- (or third)- hand dealers in a basically sewed up market, a grand design with comprehensive appeal was called for.
Behind that overall view lay this thinking:
A broad endorsement and agreement for European technology collaboration could be created with several unique features. First, the pooling of market-oriented research in certain specific areas like robotics, high-speed computing, laser technology and integrated circuits could be projected as a civilian program. The goal would be not only to coordinate European civilian research and development but to gain public support for projects with civilian and commercial applications.
Second, even though the Common Market Ten agreed in the 1984 ESPRIT project to finance an elaborate 10-year information technology program, this Eureka accord could have a broader context that included sectors like advanced manufacturing, home and factory automation. ESPRIT, which favors telecommunications, was a limited, one sector EC response to the Japanese and American computer technology hegemony achieved in the late '70s. Most important, Eureka would not negate the possibility of European particip ation in the American ``star wars'' program on a government-to-government or industry-to-industry basis. The French, British, and German governments were committed to turning ideas into marketable products in a concerted effort.
Third, to avoid just another complex research bureaucracy, or a mere political reallocation of R&D funds, this Euro-initiative was to be grounded in the serious commitments of European electronics groups with their microprocessors, semiconductors, and other automated production. The partnerships (and private money) that constructed the successful Airbus and Ariane programs would be at the heart of Eureka. Their participation would make this truly a public- and private- sector integration project reminis cent of the early postwar European recovery process.
The announcement of July 17 has the outlines of a new European partnership. Numerous questions about Eureka will need to be resolved, particularly the financial contributions of each state and specific methods and approaches that will be outlined. Yet, the Eureka Seventeen have already illustrated their depth of political will and comprehension of the critical time factor by agreeing to settle major issues at a Bonn mid-November gathering. Government and industry experts will strive to put in place a gr and design acceptable to all these sovereign states by that date.
A major step has been taken to form a consortia of transnational research which would break down past structural rigidities and national partitions. The prospects are good now that this broader-based European venture will create a true European research network. It might make technology collaboration the avenue to both a revived general economic upswing and a Europe ``speaking with one voice.'' The collective will to create coordinated projects for new cutting-edge technologies has emerged and it may be
the paramount means toward real European economic resurgence and increased trade competitivity. Europe may be at the threshold of a new stage of regional cooperation with Eureka, for under that program's umbrella may be a technological Europe.
Pierre-Henri Laurent, professor of history, is director of the International Relations Program at Tufts University.