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European Commission


Brussels, 17 September 2012

Q&A: International Cooperation in Research and Innovation

What is the purpose of the communication? Is it the first of its kind?

The communication ‘Enhancing and focusing EU international cooperation in research and innovation: A strategic approach’ sets out a new strategy to help the European Union maximise the opportunities presented by the globalisation of research and innovation. It defines the framework for international cooperation under Horizon 2020, the EU's next funding programme for research and innovation from 2014. In so doing, it builds on the previous ‘Strategic European Framework for International Science and Technology Cooperation’ from 2008.

What are the reasons behind developing the strategy?

Research and innovation are increasingly globalised activities: the number of internationally co-authored scientific publications and the international mobility of researchers are increasing. Many of today's challenges, such as combatting climate change or securing a sustainable supply of clean energy, are of a global nature. Furthermore, emerging economies account for an increasing share of expenditure on research and innovation, and are challenging the leadership of the classic triad of the EU, Japan and the USA. The European Union is still strong: with 7% of the world population, the EU is responsible for 24% of world expenditure on research, 32% of high impact publications, and 32% of patent applications. However, we need also to be able to access the growing share of knowledge being produced outside the EU.

What are the objectives of the new strategy?

The Communication and the new strategy help define the Union's approach to international cooperation in research and innovation with three clear objectives:

  • strengthening the Union’s excellence and attractiveness in research and innovation and thus its economic and industrial competitiveness;

  • tackling global societal challenges, such as food and energy security and climate change; and,

  • supporting the Union’s external policies by improving access to knowledge, people and markets and contributing to the socio-economic development of poorer countries.

What scientific agreements exist between the EU and other countries?

The EU has association agreements with 141 countries, meaning their researchers can participate and get funding on the same basis as those of the Member States. In return, the associated countries contribute to the Framework Programme budget. The agreements are limited to the duration of each Framework Programme – thus the existing agreements will expire at the end of the current, seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and new agreements will need to be established for Horizon 2020.

In addition, the EU has 20 Science & Technology (S&T) Agreements, with partners such as Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia and the U.S., that provide a framework for cooperation and dialogue on common interests and priorities. The EU has also concluded fourteen S&T agreements under the Euratom treaty (such as on fusion cooperation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy). The strategy will feed into the regular meetings that manage these agreements.

To what extent do non-EU countries already participate in EU projects?

Almost half of all signed FP7 grant agreements include at least one associated country partner, who account for about 8% of all participants. More than three-quarters of associated country partners are from Switzerland, Norway or Israel. One in five grant agreements under FP72 include at least one partner not from an EU Member State or an associated country. Partners not from EU or associated countries account for about 5% of all participants in FP7, and about a fifth of these are from high-income countries. High income countries (that are not associated countries) usually participate in EU projects on a self-financing basis. Partners not from EU or associated countries receive just over 2% of the FP7 budget, with nearly a quarter of this going to ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) countries.

In addition to participation in FP7 projects, the EU also reaches out to scientists overseas via European Research Council (ERC) grants and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

The ERC's core mission is to make Europe attractive to the very best researchers from anywhere in the world. Its grants are open to scientists of any nationality, based in, or moving to, an EU member state or an associated country, where they need to spend at least half of their research time. The grants have already helped to attract researchers to Europe, especially ones previously based in the U.S. The ERC has this year also started a global campaign to attract more top talent from overseas. Already, around 200 ERC grantees are non-Europeans. Additionally, research teams set up by ERC grantees are highly international: an estimated 18% of team members are non-Europeans.

Almost one quarter of the budget (2007-13) of €4.7 billion for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions is dedicated to international cooperation, thereby contributing to the international dimension of the European Research Area. This is notably being done through building long-lasting cooperation or networks between European and non-EU researchers and institutions. Roughly a fifth of the 11,440 Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellows to date come from outside the EU or the associated countries, meaning the programme now encompasses some 121 nationalities.

How will the funding mechanisms for international cooperation change under Horizon 2020?

While international cooperation is broader than the framework programmes – encompassing Science & Technology Agreements and external policies, for example – most funding will continue to be delivered via Horizon 2020. Building on the experience of previous programmes, Horizon 2020 will be the most open publicly-funded programme for research and innovation in the world. This general openness will be complemented by targeted actions in specific areas and with specific partner countries and/or regions, based on the principle of common interest and mutual benefit. Horizon 2020 funding mechanisms can set additional criteria to require participation of entities from a third country where this is considered necessary.

How will access to EU funding be regulated?

Under FP7, automatic funding has been restricted to those countries that are not high-income (as defined by the World Bank). Entities from high-income countries are only funded in exceptional circumstances (for example where there is a reciprocal agreement in place, such as with the NIH in the United States, or where it is clear that the contribution of the third country partner would be essential for the project to go ahead successfully). The same policy will follow through into Horizon 2020 with the exception that automatic funding will be limited where GDP is exceptionally large, even where the country is not classified as high-income. In addition, further restrictions are possible if a country fails, for example, to respect intellectual property rights. Such issues are typically considered as part of the Science & Technology Agreements and would be discussed with the countries concerned. The countries which can expect automatic funding, and any potential restrictions, will be identified in the work programmes.

Will the strategy affect third country scientists' access to the EU?

The EU needs to be an attractive location for the world's best brains. The EURAXESS Researchers in Motion Portal has been providing comprehensive and improved information on mobility within and towards Europe ranging from fellowship and career opportunities to practical information on moving and settling-in as a researcher in Europe. There is also legislation in force to facilitate the provision of visas to third country researchers. The ‘Scientific Visa Package3’ is a familiar term bringing together a Directive and a Recommendation that address researchers' permission to enter, stay and work in the EU for the purpose of carrying out scientific research. Both instruments aim at accelerating national admission and visa procedures for non-EU researchers entering the European Union.. The Directive adopted by the Council in 2005 covers long-term stays (more than 3 months), while the Recommendation is for short-term stays. All the twenty-five concerned Member States (those countries that have opted out of Schengen are not bound by the Directive) have notified measures to transpose the Directive. Ireland has decided to opt-in and is therefore also using the the Directive.

What does this strategy mean for cooperation on international research infrastructure projects?

Research infrastructure projects are often large and expensive and require support across countries. Examples include the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, recently in the news in relation to the possible identification of the Higgs Boson. The European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) maintains a roadmap of priority research infrastructures for the EU, highlighting the need for international cooperation on this issue. The strategy will build on this experience of supporting infrastructures across borders. It will also take into account the work of the Group of Senior Officials on Research Infrastructures (set up by G8 Science Ministers) which is presently preparing a framework for international cooperation on global research infrastructures.

What is the relation between this strategy and the Communication on ‘A Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth?

The new strategy addresses the external dimension of the European Research Area. The strategy proposes actions to strengthen the Commission's partnership with Member States to ensure consistency and complementarity of actions in international research and innovation. In addition, and as part of the development of the common principles outlined above, best practices arising from implementing the objectives set in the ERA Communication (such as on peer review of proposals, the gender dimension in research, and open access to scientific information) will be promoted at international level in the appropriate fora in order to create a level playing field in which researchers and innovators across the globe feel confident to engage with each other.

How will you assess the success of this strategy?

The strategy foresees a system of monitoring and evaluation based on a progress report every two years. Indicators by which success will be assessed include measures of international cooperation in Horizon 2020 (e.g. investments in joint initiatives through Horizon 2020, national and third country budgets); the further development of international cooperation policies and joint programmes by the Member States and other countries; and, more generally, the internationalisation of research and innovation (e.g. through co-authored publications and researcher mobility).

1 :

Associated Countries are: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey.

2 :

Cooperation, Capacity, and Euratom Specific Programmes

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