11 oktober 2013 | economieeuropaspeechvicepremier

‘Advanced technologies should remain instruments of freedom for all’

Speech uitgesproken ter ere van de integratie van de Gents-Leuvense spin-off Caliopa in Huawei – 10 oktober 2013, Concert Noble (Brussel).

Mister Ambassador,
Mr. Vice Rector,
Mr. and Mrs. Vice President,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking you for inviting me on this special occasion. It is a great honour for me to be present here tonight to celebrate the collaboration between Caliopa and Huawei.

It was only four weeks ago that I had the honour to make an official visit to China and to the Summer Session of the World Economic Forum in Dalian. During three intense days, we debated global challenges – economic, political, societal, and environmental.

One of the main themes was the global pursuit for economic growth. The question how to promote economic growth is a legitimate question tonight as well.

Economic growth could come from population growth. Increased fertility as a solution to the challenges of economic growth and ageing. In Belgium, the current fertility rate is 1.8, in China 1.6 births per woman. May be some of you have specific plans to contribute to this increased fertility – it can be diverting and stimulating indeed – but we all know population growth will not be the main driver for growth – neither in Belgium, nor in Europe.

Economic growth will all come down to increasing our productivity – by bettering our processes, making them more efficient and more effective. And this is were innovation and creativity come in as drivers for growth and competitiveness.

It is this same innovative creativity that brings us here together tonight. Caliopa, a spin-off company of the world renowned Photonics Research Group of IMEC and Ghent University, was founded only four years ago with the aspiration to become technological leader in the field of optical transceivers. Caliopa was the first European company to become active in the sector of silicon photonics. And it showed the ambition of an innovator. Four years later, we are witness of the success of this strategy.

For me, it is of great importance that the activities of Caliopa remain embedded in Huawei’s research activities, here in Belgium. For the simple reason that we foster our innovators.

During one of the recent trade missions, a businessman-innovator, asked what he expected from government, said that it is quite easy: ‘government should get out of the way. ‘ I can assure you: getting politicians out of the way remains very challenging. But it is a foolproof plan that needs to be applied to business as well as to science and innovation. Yet, it does not mean government has no role to play.

Fostering innovation requires from government and society at large that we offer adequate and continuous support to academia and research. In Belgium, we are proud to host several world-renowned research centres – some of whom are present here tonight,but it should not mean we to take this for granted. So continuous and adequate support remains necessary.

That is the reason why Belgian government decided earlier this year to strengthen the fiscal framework for researchers. We increased the discount on the income tax for researchers to 80 percent. With a total annual budgetary cost of more than half a billion euro, this is not an insignificant measure.

It shows that Belgium – even in harsh budgetary and fiscal times – remains committed to innovators that are re-shaping our society and preparing it for the decades to come.

Speaking of innovators, we Belgians, have a new innovation icon. Two days, ago our fellow-countryman Professor François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his ground-breaking work in the 1960’s that led to the concept of a mass-giving particle now known as the Higgs boson.

With his work, professor Englert did what innovators do: he brought change. He reshaped the way how we look at the very basics of mass. Last year, Professor Englert’s formula proved to be right: in The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN in Geneva, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the fundamental particle that prof. Englert predicted was discovered. It was a multidisciplinary and international team of scientists that did the discovery. Among them – again – a strong Belgian presence.

I am confident that the strong Belgian presence in Caliopa and Huawei will proof to be an important asset in realising future growth in the years to come.

*  *

 Apart from economic growth and innovation, one of the other main themes discussed at the World Economic Forum was the need for profound ethical reflection on the major changes that are driven by science and technology.

Mr. Vice-rector, being an ethicist yourself, I believe you will join me in emphasizing the importance of this.

In biotech and life sciences, continuous debate on ethical principles has become part of the industry and was even institutionalized through international standards emphasizing autonomy and non-harm.

But also in the technological sphere we have to be aware of the ethical conundrums of increased technological capacities. Issues of privacy, data protection and intellectual property rights need to be carefully considered and addressed. Industries and governments will have to seek a partnership to secure that advanced technologies remain instruments of freedom for all.

*  *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belgium and China have a long-standing tradition of cooperation and friendship. It has proven to be a solid basis for the integration of Caliopa in Huawei. It is my firm belief that the cooperation and friendship between Belgian and Chinese innovators offer us a solid basis to build upon future projects that will promote strong, sustainable and balanced growth for the benefit of our people.

I thank you.