Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: Between cooperation and Competition - Science and Research as a Transatlantic Bridge Builder The American European Community Association Round-table luncheon

March 8, 2006

Brussels, 7 March 2006

The American European Community Association Round-table luncheon
Brussels, 7 March 2006

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to participate in this round-table today and I’m particularly happy to have the opportunity to address you on the important role of Science and Research in the Transatlantic relationship.

Let me first of all thank Ambassador Marfurt, for his hospitality in hosting today’s luncheon in his beautiful residence. And thanks also to AECA for inviting me here today to discuss with such a distinguished audience.

The EU and the United States have a unique relationship as international partners. We share common values and interests and between us we account for the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world.

We also stand together to confront global challenges, be it threats to our peace and security or concerns over our climate, our health or our energy supply. The list can be made long.

What better subject than science and research to demonstrate how closely interdependent the world’s two economic giants are! And to illustrate how our common challenges stimulate not only cooperation, but also competition, which in turn triggers innovation and results.

The first question is why the US and the EU cooperate on science & research at all? Well, cooperation on science & research between our two continents goes back a long time, and has its natural, self-evolving reasons. We simply have had no other choice than to work together to tackle universal concerns without boundaries. Look at avian flu, bio-terrorism or energy security, to take a few examples.

We need to pool resources for expensive, long-term endeavours. Look at ITER, for example. This is a gigantic project bringing together seven parties to develop a future sustainable energy source by developing fusion energy. ITER is a prominent example of how common challenges are of such a scale that we have no other choice than to go together. Separately, these types of massive initiatives are simply not possible, or, at least, make no sense at all.

Cooperation shortens the path leading from science to innovation and from knowledge to solutions in areas such as nanotech, biotech, environment, climate and cybersecurity. In all these areas, and in many more, we share information, knowledge, practices and results.

In nanotechnology, for example, the Commission works together with the National Science Foundation to exchange information and organise seminars and workshops. Coordinated calls for joint EU-US research proposals have been launched since 1999, to draw on the best expertise on both side of the Atlantic.

We work together because we realise that it is in the interest of both Europe and the US to do so. And often, of course, it is also in the interest of many other countries around the globe, whether they are directly involved in the cooperation, or not.

But – of course – we also cooperate simply because that is what scientists do. Naturally, spontaneously and, often, effectively. Scientists are, by the mere nature of their work, mobile and outward looking. Research does not know of any national frontiers and scientists simply work where and with those that offer the best opportunities.

But perhaps even more important for our transatlantic links is the dynamism and creativity that competition brings.

Competition is part of our natural disposition as social individuals, and also an imperative of the societies we live in. Whether it’s the market share of our companies that we have at heart, or the wellbeing of our people, or the next breakthrough in science and technology, or - indeed, all of the above - competition is the name of the game.

We compete because we know that today’s discoveries will most probably underpin tomorrow’s economic achievements.

And we compete because – in the US as much as in Europe – we draw healthy stimuli and encouragement from comparing our respective figures. Numbers of science and engineering graduates, researchers as percentage of the workforce, figures for R&D investment, numbers of publications and patents and so on...

This mix of cooperation and competition is a key engine of progress. That’s how we discover and advance. How we set and reach objectives, improve performances and achieve results. By finding the right mix or the right balance between cooperation and competition. Be it between individuals, organisations, economies or societies.

And isn’t this also what scientists spontaneously do? They compete for excellence, for recognition, for results and for funds. They strive to be the first to publish or to patent. But they also learn from one another. They compare and exchange and they join forces aiming for common achievements.

The same is true for companies and other organisations, for which a balanced mix of cooperation and competition is often the key to performance and achievement.

And this is also what we do with our Research Framework Programme. We stimulate the best teams to compete for limited financial resources, and at the same time we encourage cooperation so as to gain from complementary expertise, cross-fertilisation, pooling of human and material resources. This way we promote excellence, we encourage specialisation and we produce better results.

And now we are working to implement a Research Framework Programme that is open to the whole world, for our mutual benefit. Quite naturally and logically the cooperation with countries that are not part of the European Union is vital for a better integration of Europe as a whole.

We plan to offer grants to attract the best scientists to European laboratories where a mutual exchange of experience and information can benefit both the host country and the country of origin. And we expect to see Member States harmonising their regulations for visiting researchers and making it easier for them to get the necessary visas.

For this to work we must endeavour to make sure that the opportunities for participation are better known on both sides of the Atlantic and identify the most appropriate and user-friendly mechanisms to enable our researchers to work together.

The specific weight of Science and Research within the Transatlantic Agenda has been growing steadily and has acquired greater visibility lately, notably with the latest EU-US summit in December last year. Basic research, nano, space, information technology, innovation and other areas now figure prominently on that agenda.

This is certainly the fruit of a converging political determination on both sides of the Atlantic. But it is also the consequence of the fact that both sides increasingly perceive science and research as a critical component of the respective policies for economic competitiveness, growth and jobs. The new American Competitiveness Initiative announced by President Bush in his recent State-of-the-Union address – and substantiated in the budget proposal that the US government just put forward – clearly points in this direction.

And it is interesting to read how, in its goals as well as in some of its ingredients, it clearly echoes our own Lisbon objectives and measures!

Science and research are perceived both here and in the US as more “useful” than before. And indeed, research is taken more seriously politically than ever before. Think about the scientific dimension of issues like environmental protection or climate change, that have seen Europe and the US on opposite sides in economic progress and consumer protection. Think about access to space and the development of global positioning systems. These are cases where science and politics go hand in hand. But they are also examples of the fact that sometimes when the politics brings us apart, then science can help us find the necessary common ground.

We have seen this clearly happen during the last few years. Now the relations between Europe and the US are again marked by positive cooperative tones and promising perspectives. But we have gone through a period, up to recently, during which the list of differences looked longer than the list of agreements. From steel to agricultural subsidies, from GMOs to Kyoto, from the International Criminal Court to the war in Iraq, some people on both sides almost lost sight of the solidity and durability of the transatlantic partnership.

But, interestingly, even during those more difficult times, science and research have always stood out as areas where cooperation could continue to grow, unaffected by political tensions elsewhere. Or better: science and research benefited from a sort of "compensatory" status. They came to be perceived as fields where - precisely while we were "quarreling" on several other matters - we could still prove to ourselves, to one another and to the world, that we remained each other's best partners and allies.

Now that we have moved on to a smoother phase in our transatlantic dialogue, science and research must continue to exert their bridging function. The commitments made by our top political leaders in June last year must be taken seriously and delivered upon. I intend to start from there, build on past achievements, to make further substantial progress in transatlantic cooperation in S&T.

There are areas like nano and biotech, where we already have a strong basis of cooperation, and we can improve further; and there are areas like health and researchers' mobility where there is great potential for cooperation that waits to be developed. I intend use the opportunity of a visit to the United States before the summer - my first visit there in my present capacity - to make progress in this direction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Most of the major scientific projects of today, such as the construction of the international space station and super particle accelerators, need international cooperation. Cooperation between the EU and the United States has a particular role to play.

The same is true for meeting the challenges of global climate change and emerging diseases. Transatlantic co-operation in research is therefore an absolute necessity.

Globalisation is of course not confined to R&D – it is also a way for companies to grow and stay competitive, which in the end will benefit Europe. For many companies today their market is neither the home market nor Europe but the whole world.

We will always remain between cooperation and competition, but it is my sincere belief that in many research areas this mix is an excellent stimulus for further developing the European-American Partnership.

I thank you for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/148 Date: 07/03/2006

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