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SPEECH/07/16












Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Science and Research




Taking knowledge beyond today's borders






















FP7 launch - Israël
Israël, 18 January 2007

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s a real pleasure to be here today. As you may know, I launched the European Union’s new Research Framework Programme, FP7, in Germany on Monday.

I am pleased that the next country I have visited is Israel. I hope this sends a clear message: that EU funded research is about more than just the European Union. It’s about common challenges and joint opportunities, no matter where, no matter what discipline.

Your accession to the FP7 should be tied up soon. I believe it is in your interests as well as ours to have you on board. FP7 is, after all, the largest single publicly funded research funded programme in the world.

It has grown not just in budget, with a 40% increase, but also in size, with an increasing number of participants from third countries too. Countries like China and Russia are showing greater interest in taking full advantage of the opportunities it offers.

Since August 1996, Israel has been the only non-European country fully associated to the European Union R&D Framework Programme.

Since then, Israel’s research links with the European Union have been a success story. Under the 6th Framework Programme, Israel has already recouped more funds through research grants than it paid for its accession. Most of these funds were awarded to Israeli universities.

I am pleased to say that the European Union is now the second most significant source of academic funding in Israel, second only to the Israel Science Foundation.

The benefits for Israeli participants have not been limited to funding. The mix of people, cultures, ideas and ways to innovate has also been important. Some partnerships built during the Programme have continued after them.

Israel’s association to the Framework Programme has brought improved results, greater input and stronger links.

Information Communication Technology was a clear priority for Israel in FP6, accounting for around a third of Israeli participants and received funding. This is hardly surprising, given Israel's strength in the area. It is second only to the US in hi-tech start ups and ICT accounts for nearly half of its industrial exports.

Also important was life sciences, accounting for around a fifth of participation and received funding. In these, and in other important areas for Israel, such as aeronautics, space and nanotechnologies and materials, there are more clear opportunities in FP7.

Surveys conducted by the Israeli government show positive feedback from the Israeli university and industry research community on their FP6 experience. 86% of respondents from academia and 70% from industry said their participation in a FP6 project was ‘very important’ was to their work.

The business collaboration and access to EU markets in FP6 offered huge potential to Israel.

This is one of the areas where I hope FP7 will make a difference. We want to see increased innovation. We want to see ideas being brought to market. To help this, we have introduced a series of new measures which will help. Let me give you a few examples.

Firstly there is increased funding. Around 40% more is available in real terms in FP7 compared to the previous Framework Programme. And it is longer. FP7 will run until 2013.

We have kept continuity in areas where it was needed and innovation where change was required.

One of the main requests we have responded to is to make the Framework Programme simpler.

This does not just mean simpler administrative procedures. It also means

  • a newer simpler set of funding instruments
  • less bureaucratic language
  • a streamlined project selection process
  • increased autonomy of the consortia and
  • reduced reporting requirements

We have also introduced a more cross sectoral and horizontal approach. By increasingly working in a multi-disciplinary way, we can benefit from knowledge across, as well as in, different fields.

And we have mainstreamed international cooperation throughout the Framework Programme. Some themes, such as the Capacities themes, have specific activities fully dedicated to international cooperation. We want to build up the pool of countries who can provide and benefit from European research expertise.

Many of you may know the four main themes of the new Framework Programme. For those who don't, allow me to give a brief description.

First, the Cooperation Programme. This is the biggest in FP7, both in size and budget. It will support research cooperation in 10 themes. They are:

1) health

2)food, agriculture and biotechnology

3)information and communication technologies

4)nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies

5) energy

6) environment (including climate change)

7) transport (including aeronautics)

8) socio-economic sciences and humanities and

9) security and

10) space

Although each area will operate autonomously, there will be a consistency of all measures across the thematic areas. Joint approaches to research areas in several thematic areas can be made.

Second, the Ideas Programme will see a new European Research Council established. The Council will fund frontier research, supporting “investigator-driven” research projects across all fields. Individual teams will compete for funding. The key points are that there will be

  • no need to link up with other countries' researchers
  • a simplified funding procedure and
  • no pre-set research areas

That makes this programme one of major breaks with the past. Researchers from the private and public sectors simply present proposals on subjects of their choice. These are evaluated solely on their excellence through peer review, and funding decisions follow.

Third, the People programme is all about making sure that researchers, academics, entrepreneurs - and many others – have the best conditions possible to carry out their research on their ideas. From the start of their research through to the end, from the results through to market, in the public and the private sector, and with a work/life balance.

We want Europe to become the world's research capital. It should attract the world's best. And it should also attract Europe's own best, whether that means encouraging more budding researchers, or attracting home those who have already left. This will be an important part of making the European Research Area a reality for many in the scientific community.

The final programme is Capacities.

This part of the Framework Programme will enhance research and innovation capacities throughout Europe and ensure their best use. This aim will be achieved through:

– Optimising the use and development of research infrastructures.

– Strengthening innovative capacities of SMEs, and their ability to benefit from research.

– Supporting the development of regional research-driven clusters.

– Horizontal actions and measures to support international co-operation

***

These and many other innovations in FP7 are designed to make research easier and more efficient. We have seen an opportunity to improve in certain areas and we have taken it.

I believe that Israel had a similar feeling over 10 years ago when it decided to join the EU’s Framework Programme through an accession agreement.

You realised you could learn a lot from working with European research and researchers. Now you are showing us examples of how to give research the importance it deserves.

For example, we are aiming to see an average of 3% of GDP dedicated to R&D across the EU. But at the moment we are stuck around 1.9%. Yet in Israel, 4.7% of GDP goes on civilian R&D. And the figure is growing.

The EU wants to hit some of the other targets already reached by Israel. For example, you have an R&D expenditure per capita that is higher than the US and all EU countries except Sweden. You have 12 researchers per 1,000 workers in the business sector. This is more than in the US, Japan or in Finland.

This kind of development is what is needed to take European research on to the next level. But I want Europe to go a step further.

I want to see a complete review of the European Research Area. A revamped, revitalised European Research Area can give research – and researchers – the kind of importance they already enjoy in countries like Israel.

We need to look beyond national boundaries, EU frontiers and scientific disciplines. Across the European Research Area, there are many countries, administrations and organisations who can teach others.

We have already seen that Israel can play an important part in this review of the ERA. It has not only provided feedback through the Framework Programme but also via other schemes.

For example, Israeli companies are active in several European Technology Platforms, like the eMobility one. And they have strong links with European industrial research through the EUREKA network.

We need that input from outside the EU. The work of the last seven years has helped build the European Research Area. Now it is time to check its health and see how we can make it stronger. This will be 'a new era for the ERA'.

I want to see how we can create a 'United States of Research', with a base in Europe. States of nations, states of development, states of cooperation, states of innovation – in short, states of the future.

If we are truly going to build a knowledge society, then knowledge has to pass around freely. I hope that the changes we can bring forward collectively will bring that reality closer.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have learnt from my personal and professional experience that there are three groups of people who don’t like being told what to do: politicians, scientists and children. We have at least two of those groups here today. So I do not intend to make that mistake.

But I come from a part of the world, the Balkans, where there has been conflict recently. So let me finish today by saying a few words about how research has helped. I have seen in my visits to several Balkan countries that research can benefit more than just our knowledge. Research has shown us examples of people from different countries, religions and beliefs working together.

Here, in the Middle East, that benefit could outweigh all others. And we have already seen how it can work. There have been already been some joint research projects involving researchers from Israel and its neighbours.

A recent event in Brussels highlighted how research can bridge the divides of the past, present and possibly future. The “Science and Scientists as Bridge-Builders in the Middle East” event was organized by the Hebrew University and the Georg-August University of Göttingen, Germany.

These two universities have long worked as research partners. One of the speakers at the event was Prof. Hassan Dweik of the Palestinian Al-Quds University. His university is involved in cooperative research with the Hebrew University and Göttingen.

The people from all three universities, German, Jewish and Palestinian, were there to talk about research. To talk about issues like water purification and cancer. They were scientists first and foremost. And that is the kind of bridge we hope research can build not just in Europe, but around the world.

I hope that FP7 and a new revitalized ERA can be building blocs in the construction of more of those bridges.

Thank you.


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