Brussels, May 2003
Quite a lot, it seems. Recent high-level talks between the Commission and South Korean officials set the stage for future EU-Asian scientific co-operation.
Meeting European Union officials in Brussels last week, South Korea's minister for science and technology (S&T), Ho Koon Park, discussed ways to enhance scientific co-operation between his country and the EU. What became immediately clear during the talks is that South Korea and the EU share many common research priorities – and face similar challenges – such as in biotechnology, nanotechnology and environmental and space technology. Both parties also acknowledged their concern over future shortages of scientists and engineers.
The long-term ambition of such a tie-up would be to negotiate an EU-South Korea scientific co-operation agreement along the lines of the one recently drawn up with China. This could mean offering a general framework for co-operation and for South Korean participation in the EU's Research Framework Programme, and vice versa.
One avenue discussed for closer ties could be South Korea's participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a fusion energy research project of special interest to the Union. To be built over the next ten years and costing around €4.6 billion, ITER is a huge undertaking. South Korea – which is already active in fusion research – could make a valuable contribution. Mr Park has shown keen interest in joining ITER, and next month expects to sign a co-operation agreement with the EU in this field. It would join negotiations with current ITER members Japan, Russia, Canada, China the USA, as well as EU members.
The South Korean government has long recognised the importance of 'investing' in scientific research. The short-term goals of its 'First five-year S&T plan' were to increase government R&D spending to 5% of GDP in 2002. Its long-term targets, according to South Korea's 'Vision 2025' S&T policy document, is to reduce the role of government and create a private sector-led national innovation system, helping to reach a position of world leadership in some key scientific areas.
To finance these ambitious aims, the South Koreans almost doubled their R&D spending in the period between 1998 to 2002 – from €1.9 billion (3.6% of the budget) to €3.6 billion (4.7%). Certain parallels can be drawn here with the EU's recent commitment to increase research expenditure to 3% of GDP by 2010.
With a number of longer-term co-operative measures in the pipeline, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin discussed with Mr Park more immediate and concrete ways to foster greater scientific collaboration between the EU and South Korea. One option put forward was to hold a 'Korean Science Day' in Europe which would be reciprocated with a 'European Science Day' in South Korea.