Photonics Partnership Needs to be Key Priority in Horizon Europe

EPIC Director General Carlos Lee took the stage at the annual general assembly, April 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland (Source: EPIC)

Three leading European Nobel Laureates from France and Germany have warned that failure to include a dedicated programme for photonics in the EU’s next Horizon Europe 2021-27 programme will jeopardise the deep technology capability and capacity that will be essential for powering the future European digital economy.

The scientists – Gérard Mourou, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2018; Stefan W. Hell, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2014, and Theodor W Hänsch, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2005 – were all awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in the field of photonics and photonics enabled sciences.

“Photonics underpins as yet undiscovered advances in many other sectors including health, space, mobility and security,” said the laureates in a jointly signed open letter to the European Commission in which they call on it to reconsider the current draft programming for the Cluster on Industry and Digital within the future Horizon programme and include photonics as the tenth technology priority.

The explicit focus on Photonics in the current Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in Europe enjoying a world leading position and outstanding excellence in photonics science and technology.

“The Photonics 21 contractual public private partnership (cPPP) was assessed best in class in the mid-term review under the Horizon 2020 programme and a role model for future European partnerships,” explained Carlos Lee, director general, European Photonics Industry Consortium, EPIC. “Now the Commission is abandoning its star performer and throwing away Europe’s chance to lead the world in the technology of the future. Europe has already lost its dominance in the semi-conductor, LED and solar industries, the Commission must take action now before it condemns Europe’s burgeoning photonics sector and related strategic value chains to the same fate.”

“The EU has the opportunity to make Europe the world-leader in photonics,” continued Lee. “In doing so it will shore up Europe’s sovereign security and underpin its ability to compete in the next phase of the digital revolution. It will also support the SME sector which drives the EU economy and represents 86 percent of Europe’s five thousand photonics companies.”

Photonics enable the deep tech applications that power the technologies and industries of the future: in medicine, photonics make up some eighty percent of the in-vitro diagnostic market; they are a vital component in aeronautics; and also in the data encryption and security sectors. Photonics provide the sensing that connects the physical with the digital in the new robotic era. Photonic integrated circuits are not only faster than traditional electronics, they are also more power efficient and consume less energy – making them the sustainable choice for the future.

The photonics community represents a family of technologies which are crucial to strategic value chains across a range of sectors. It must not be disbanded but kept together in order that it can develop applications across a host of industries – from aeronautics and security through to MedTech, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. It needs a direct funding line and clear financial instruments that enable it to realize its potential in the new electronic age. Without this Europe will not only miss the boat in terms of its technological lead but will also cut off the supply of vital products and result in the loss of billions of euros in contracts.

Experts acknowledge photonics as key to developing Europe’s deep tech ecosystem – so why is photonics not included in Horizon Europe, the 2021-27 programme? “The Commission has not understood that while photonics is a fragmented community it needs to work as a single entity in order to develop new technologies for applications in the new technological age,” explained Lee. Instead it has sought to carve it up and distribute it piecemeal across many sectors. This approach overlooks the importance of the sector working together as an enabler and building block. The fact that it is dominated by young, innovative SMEs does not help its cause either as there is no group of large, corporate champions to fight its corner.”

It is vital that the Commission recognizes the crucial role photonics plays in the industrial ecosystem and makes it a priority in Horizon Europe. By ensuring that it receives secure funding we can safeguard Europe’s competitiveness and realize the potential of new technologies in driving its advancement in the new electronic age. (Source: EPIC)

Link: European Photonics Industry Consortium, Paris, France

Further reading: EPIC Advocates for Photonics European Partnership in Horizon Europe,, 30th April 2019Nobel Laureates Slam EC over Photonics Funding,, 25th January 2019


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