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INTERNATIONAL - In the global fight for future technologies, Europe risks falling behind.

That’s what a group of the region’s best minds - dubbed Jedi - are saying as Google, Apple, Facebook and China’s artificial intelligence companies forge ahead in the race for technological supremacy.

Jedi, or the Joint European Disruption Initiative, counts among its 117 members former Deutsche Telekom chief executive René Obermann; France’s first female astronaut Claudie Haignere; the head of the country’s cybersecurity agency, Guillaume Poupard; and Wolfgang Wahlster, the chief of Germany’s Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). And it’s calling for urgent government action.

“What matters is speed; speed in innovation, speed in execution, speed in smart regulation,” said André Loesekrug-Pietri, an investor who worked for a decade in China and lobbied to create the Jedi group in August.

“Be the one that sets the speed and you will set the norms. If Europe doesn’t change its rhythm it will become irrelevant.”

The Jedi group is calling for the immediate setting up of a pan-European fund of 1billion euros (R14billion) for fundamental research projects, with a small, agile unit that takes just a couple months to decide on a project. 

The non-governmental group wants to model its efforts on the US Department of Defense’s Darpa, or Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which helped the creation of the computer mouse, an early version of an artificial intelligence-powered robot as well as a precursor of the internet.

While French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have made the right noises about the need for a greater European effort in disruptive technologies, industry leaders fear a lack of urgency in the region.

Europe’s intricate corridors of powers, its bureaucracy and slow decision-making mean it will be months before a Jedi-like operation can take shape, according to two officials in Macron’s office.

The EU’s Horizon 2020 innovation fund takes close to eight months to review a project before granting a euro and is not funding basic research for inventions that will set benchmarks in the decade ahead. For the Jedi, the endless fumbling means lost long-term competitiveness.

In a one-page document sent to the French president in August, the group pushed for a Darpa-type fund.

- BLOOMBERG