The European Union (EU) will provide a sizeable amount of money to research groups this year as part of a multiyear program to spur research in new information and communications technologies.

More than 2,000 ICT researchers met Thursday in Cologne, Germany, to learn how they can participate in the EU's 7th Framework Programme for research and development, with a budget of €50 billion (£43bn) through 2013.

ICT research accounts for the lion's share of the framework budget at €9.1 billion, with €1.2 billion to be allocated this year.

The EU is keen to fund research in areas where the region has a technological edge, including communications, software systems, networked media and embedded systems. The European government also hopes to speed innovation in areas where companies in the region could gain a competitive edge, such as next-generation internet technology.

Early EU investment in digital mobile communications, the Brussels government is quick to point out, led to the development and worldwide adoption of the GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) standard, the most widely used mobile phone system in the world.

Research organisations across Europe are encouraged to establish a research priority, form a consortium and apply for funding. The EU, which launched a call for proposals on 22 December, will accept proposals until 8 May.

While researchers team up in Cologne, other partnerships are already taking shape in the ICT area.

Under a new strategy for funding technology research announced in November, the EU has agreed to pool its vast resources with those from private industry and individual member states in a public-private partnership.

The plan calls for technology companies and research institutes to marry their own research and development investments with additional funds from the member states and the EU through new Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI).

The first JTI, called Artemis, is focused on embedded systems, an area signalled by European ministers as being of strategic importance for Europe's economy. European industry's own research investment in this area is estimated at around €15 billion to €20 billion per year.