That is Nathalie Moll’s opinion, secretary-general to Europabio, the Brussels lobby branch of Europe’s biotechnological industry. Industrial biotechnology is growing fast, and is selected as one of six Key Enabling Technologies for a greener and more sustainable Europe. The European bioeconomy (European shorthand for agriculture and all production from agricultural crops) by now has a value of 2 trillion Euros, and employs 22 million Europeans.
Room for optimism
Even though that is impressive, Nathalie Moll argues that critical decisions lie ahead in Europe: the 2013-2020 Common Agricultural Policy, the initiation of Horizon 2020 (the next Common Strategic Framework Program on research and innovation), and the imminent Bioeconomic Strategy by Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Marie Geoghegan Quinn. She argues that there is room for optimism because Europe for the first time has appointed a Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Anne Glover. And the European Union has set as its goal economic growth by means of scientific and technological development. Biotechnology is a central item in Horizon 2020, to which the doubling of the bioeconomy budget in that program is instrumental.
But within the bioeconomy program, some accents are wrongly put. The bioeconomy in Eastern Europe is stagnant, farmers think almost exclusively in terms of food production. The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Cioloş, himself a Rumanian and responsible for CAP, is not in the least interested in valorisation of agricultural side streams. Some redirection of policy might be necessary. All the more as a cooperation of agriculture and biotechnology will be decisive for the development of local biorefinery.
Corporations are committed
Fortunately, according to Nathalie Moll, the European Commission itself holds the view that the interests of chemistry and materials have priority. And there is no reason to change this course. All is in place, technology, corporations which are committed, and even a certain public awareness; still lacking are incentives for industrial take-up and funding for pilot plants, items which are well in place in other countries (USA, China, India, Brazil). Europe will experience a setback because of mutual discord and the focus on food. And still, the food versus fuel discussion hampers us – inter alia an item which is well addressed in the Framework Programme.
Nathalie Moll indicates too that the bioeconomy is hindered by a European focus on bioenergy instead of chemicals and materials. And according to her, European GMO policy is a stumbling block. Whereas foreign countries use this technology freely, in our continent even the use of GMO technology for non-food purposes proves to be difficult. Consequently, even though the European Commission has a favourable stand on the matter, there are many hurdles to take before the European bioeconomy can really make a take-off.