Brussels, 07 Oct 2005
Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik opened a two-day conference entitled 'the international dimension of the Europe of Knowledge - a common interest to Europe and to the world' by emphasising the growing internationalisation of research and the need for cooperation in order to meet global challenges. The conference took place on 6 and 7 October in Brussels, Belgium.
In introducing Mr Potocnik, Professor P. Debré, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) thanked him for his support and noted that cooperation between Europe and the South is gaining in political importance. Professor J. F. Girard, Chair of the French Research Institute for International Development (IRD) joined him in calling for follow-up to the conference to include the insertion of the international dimension in discussions on the proposed next framework programme (FP7), as well as in future negotiations on the European Development Fund.
Mr Potocnik began by noting the growing trend towards the internationalisation of research, as evidenced by trans-national collaborations and joint ventures, human mobility and flows of private research and development (R&D) investment. He also commented on its varying pace across different sectors, however. 'If this is fast in high-tech trade, for example,' he said, ' it is slower in science and technology cooperation, particularly in some parts of the world and in private R&D investment.'
The production of knowledge is in itself a contribution to other goals, said the Commissioner, and a new
approach is replacing the former role of science and technology as a support to other policies. The EU has
responded to globalisation by increasing the internationalisation of its research instruments, and is
developing actions for closer collaboration at three levels:
- between the EU and specific countries;
- at a regional level among Mediterranean countries or with Latin America, for example;
- at a global level through such initiatives as the 2002 Earth Summit.
While emphasising that EU research policy must continue to make every effort to maximise the attractiveness of the EU for foreign R&D investment, Mr Potocnik warned that the aim of raising total investment in R&D to three per cent of the EU's GDP is mainly dependent on private resources, and detailed the Commission's initiatives - such as Joint Technology Initiatives and new research infrastructures - aimed at supporting this.
The rise of China and the smaller relative size of the European economy in the world, means that a new international cooperation strategy is needed, involving close coordination with Member States and dialogue with partners. International scientific and technological cooperation is a high priority, building strategic partnerships, attracting the best researchers to Europe for exchanges of knowledge and later return, and identifying projects of mutual benefit.
Enhancing cooperation with developing countries is also a priority, emphasised the Commissioner, as science and technology are one of the essential engines of social and economic growth and sustainable development.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals requires a global effort, said Mr Potocnik, and the EU can radically enhance this effort by investing in capacities in these countries, but it is dependent upon coordination and cooperation. The EU's aim is to allow its scientists to work with its partners on scientific and technological cooperation in order to address global challenges, such as food security, sustainable development and the digital divide.
'The world is getting smaller, life is getting faster,' he concluded, 'and we have no choice but to cooperate.'
The conference's first session heard concerns on the framework programmes' record in facilitating international cooperation, however. Professor Eric Goles Chacc, Chair of Chile's National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (Conicyt) said that rather than 'brothers' in close relations with Europe, sometimes he felt like 'fifth cousins twenty times removed'.
He said that when it comes to taking into account third-country interests, the framework programmes do not as yet allow for full involvement and there is a need for a Latin American forum for discussions with the EU. He also emphasised that the EU remains Chile's main partner, however; used correctly, European funding could bring hugely successful results, and if coordination can be improved then both Latin America and Europe will gain.
Rob Adam, Director General of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology, also claimed that
international cooperation in the fields of science and technology needs to be better understood, and could be
usefully divided into three types of partnership for analysis:
- peer to peer collaboration amongst researchers, the basis of most interaction within the EU's framework programmes;
- directed network building for innovation capacity, for which he gave the example of the European-Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP);
- the building of large-scale scientific institutions through direct investment to create capacity.
As did many of the speakers during the first day's sessions, he emphasised the intrinsically international nature of scientific research, quoting Louis Pasteur, who said: 'Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to all humanity.'
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