Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France
The European Institute of Technology took a faltering step toward becoming a reality on 26 September when the European Parliament gave a preliminary go-ahead for the project.
Doubts persist over how the institute will be funded. But already, EU member states are beginning to clamour for the kudos - and cash - they might attract by hosting the EIT governing board.
The Polish university city of Wroclaw is running a particularly high-profile campaign, with Budapest and Munich also jockeying to host the institute.
Initially, the administrative unit will be the only tangible manifestation of a 'virtual university' launched on a pilot scale as two or three research collaborations with industry. These Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) should eventually enjoy legal autonomy, the Parliament said.
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's 2006 vision of an EU institute to rival the mighty MIT foresaw start-up finance from industry and the EU totalling of ?2.4 billion (£1.7 billion) for 2008-2013. However, no provision was made for the EIT when the EU agreed its spending plans at the end of 2005 and the institute has also yet to attract firm backing from industry.
A week prior to the Parliament's vote, the Commission published rescue plans which would see some ?309 million (£216 million) diverted from farm budgets, unspent cash from other areas cash and - controversially - from the EU's research programme for 2007-2013, Framework 7.
MEPs had previously spoken against siphoning money from EU research. But when the EIT founding statute was tabled for first reading in Strasbourg, political groups settled for a compromise stipulating that research funding applications from KICs should not be privileged over other Framework 7 bids.
Furthermore, funding from Framework 7 and other current EU programmes must not be used to cover EIT establishment and administration costs, MEPs declared.
For now, the EIT is on hold pending separate, budgetary legislation which must be cleared by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The EIT draft will then return to Strasbourg for a second reading.
Finnish MEP Reino Paasilinna, who is steering the EIT statute through its parliamentary stages, told Chemistry World, 'Setting aside the funding issue, the respective positions of the Parliament and the Council of Ministers are very close.
'The EU budget [for 2008] will have to be settled in November -and the issues are indeed difficult. But regarding the substance of the EIT legislation, we should then be able to settle our differences quite rapidly,' he said.
On Paasilinna's recommendation, the big groups in the Parliament approved the EIT legislation subject to around 70 amendments.
Some changes address fundamental issues such as the appointment and operation of the institute's governing board. Others are cosmetic, as in the case of a decision to refer to the EIT in legislation as the 'European Institute for Innovation and Technology' despite a warning from Education Commissioner Jan Figel that he wants to retain the original title.