Brussels, 30 Sep 2003
'Europe is not a fortress, it's open to the world,' said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin in an interview with CORDIS News, explaining his many overseas trips in recent months.
Research cooperation between the EU and third countries has increased significantly over the last few years, with the establishment of truly international projects and discussions in areas such as poverty related diseases, space, nuclear fusion, hydrogen and genomics. Science and technology cooperation agreements have also been signed with a plethora of countries, including Chile, Morocco, Tunisia, Argentina and Russia. The Commissioner, however, wants more than the mere signing of an agreement.
'My idea is that they may be more than simply formal, diplomatic agreements. They should be agreements which are actually used,' said Mr Busquin. 'For this to happen, we need to encourage researchers from third countries to participate in the Framework Programme - which they are doing - much more than was the case with its predecessor.'
The reason for travelling to both Northern and Southern Africa, as well as Chile, was 'to make people aware of Europe in the field of research and to say that we are open to partnerships everywhere in the world,' said the Commissioner. 'I always said that Europe will succeed, and that the European Research Area will be effective, when the world's best researchers come to Europe.'
The Commissioner's visits to South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Tunisia and Morocco could be interpreted as signalling a new era of cooperation between Europe and Africa. His trip to South Africa saw him attending the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference and urging mobilisation by African governments on the European and developing countries clinical trials programme (EDCTP). The initiative will see a total of 600 million euro channelled towards research into HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. 'Africa has problems, and of course we will help Africa, but not just in a development sense. It's a partnership,' said Mr Busquin. It is extremely important that African researchers participate in the initiative, and that they develop their own research infrastructure in the process, he emphasised.
Strong partnerships may be difficult as some countries do not award or cannot afford to award research the same priority as is the case in Europe. The Commissioner concedes this difficulty, but his meetings in Africa have left him optimistic. He was 'struck' to see, for example, how high a priority research and innovation are being given in Tunisia. The government recognises the importance of preparing for the graduation of the 31 per cent of the population aged between 19 and 24 which is currently at university. And this in a country with a very young population.
Mr Busquin spoke of an enormous interest in Africa for collaboration with Europe. 'They can't do it completely alone, they have to do it in a partnership, and why not with Europe? Because Europe is the closest and most open partner,' he said, referring in particular to Tunisia.
As in any solid relationship, give and take is the key, and the Commissioner is adamant that Europe is set to benefit from collaboration with less developed countries. Genetics research in Tunisia, where sections of the population have remained isolated, and oceanography in Chile are areas where the EU can benefit from knowledge and experience unavailable at home, according to Mr Busquin.
Another field in which the EU has stepped up cooperation with third countries is space research. A recent consultation process on Europe and space concluded that international collaboration is essential. But will this have the effect of strengthening or diluting the European space policy which stakeholders in the EU are so eager to establish? 'We want coherent development in Europe, but we are not going to act as if the others don't exist,' explained Mr Busquin. The priority is that Europe remains the 'motor', at the foundation of such cooperative initiatives, he added.
Galileo has thus far been described as 'Europe's satellite navigation system'. The definition may have to change with the acceptance of China into the project, and news that India and Israel also wish to join. But this should be regarded as a strengthening of the project, believes the Commissioner: 'It's great that Europe is developing Galileo, but in a global way. The navigation system should be as large as possible. [...] There was a lot of resistance to Galileo, especially from the US, but Galileo now appears as a system universally recognised by others. This is proof of Europe's ambition to stimulate cooperation around itself. Politically, this is very important.'
This new attitude towards third country cooperation is mirrored in the design of the Sixth Framework Programme. Whereas in the past a specific programme allocated funding to projects involving non-EU researchers, teams from outside Europe can now participate in any of the thematic priority areas.
The Commissioner also believes that the new Integrated Projects, which are larger than projects funded under previous framework programmes, make collaboration more attractive for third country researchers. 'Lots of smaller projects is less attractive,' said Mr Busquin. The Commissioner has evidence to back up his claim - some of the Integrated Projects accepted by the Commission include American or Japanese partners, and will therefore receive some funding from these countries.
For further information on international cooperation under FP6, please visit:
For further information on the EDCTP, please visit: