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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Research and Innovation
Barcelona, 2 April 2012
It is perhaps a cliché to describe the Mediterranean as the "cradle of European civilisation". But like so many clichés, it carries a fundamental truth.
From the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, to Arab and Renaissance scientists, for millennia the Mediterranean has been a crossroads of science and creativity. The peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean share many common histories and traditions, and increasingly interdependent economies.
But in this Euro-Mediterranean Conference we are looking to the future by defining an agenda for a renewed partnership for research and innovation.
To do this, we certainly have a wealth of ideas and experience at our disposal, with more than 300 participants from over 30 countries and a programme with many high-level speakers and participants. I would especially like to thank the participants in this opening session for their contribution: State Secretary Vela Olmo, Minister Mas-Colell, Minister Daoudi, Mr Brinckmann, representing the Danish Presidency, and Mr Johansson, MEP.
The Commission was very pleased to organise this conference, but we could not have done so without the help of the European External Action Service, the European Parliament, the Member States and the Mediterranean countries.
I think the fact that 20 European Union countries are participating proves that cooperation with Mediterranean countries is a priority for the whole European Union, not just for those Member States on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Research and innovation are key elements of the European Union's cooperation with Mediterranean countries since we are all facing challenges such as climate change, water and energy. It makes perfect sense to tackle these issues jointly, and to bring our scientists together so they can find the answers we need.
But there is also a strong economic rationale to work together: investing in and cooperating on research and innovation promotes growth and jobs, and improves people's lives across both regions.
It is symbolic that we are holding the conference in Barcelona: cooperation between our regions began with the Barcelona Process in 1995, and took a major step forward with the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008, whose General Secretariat is located in this city.
Since 2004, the European Neighbourhood Policy has transformed the dialogue between the EU and the Mediterranean Countries, boosting political contacts, trade relations and policy-driven cooperation.
So what have we achieved so far in the field of science, technology and research? The bilateral S&T cooperation agreements that the EU has signed with Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia focus on strengthening bilateral policy dialogues and promoting joint cooperation in research and innovation.
In addition, a Monitoring Committee for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, composed of Senior Officials from all EU Member States and Mediterranean countries, was created in 1995 to monitor and stimulate Euro-Mediterranean cooperation by making recommendations for the joint implementation of policies in research and innovation.
As well as cooperating on policy-making, we have also invested in research cooperation. Four countries of the Union for the Mediterranean - Israel, Turkey, Croatia and Albania - are associated to the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, or FP7.
FP7 has financed a great number of projects in the areas of environment, food, agriculture and health, focusing on topics identified through the dialogues with Mediterranean countries. To date, not counting researchers from the four associated countries I just mentioned, 350 participants from the Mediterranean countries are working in 175 FP7 projects. These range from collaborative research and networking to research infrastructure, researcher mobility and capacity building. This represents an EU contribution of more than 40 million Euro.
To give you just one example of what this means in practice, MIRA is a 4 million Euro project to boost collaboration between all Mediterranean and European Countries. Bringing together 30 partners from 20 different countries, over the last four years it has helped us define our priorities for research cooperation in the fields of Environment, Agriculture, Health, Energy, ICT and Social Sciences, as well as helping develop research capacities in the Mediterranean region.
The events of the Arab Spring called for a new vision for Cooperation in Research and Innovation between the EU and the Mediterranean countries, which would contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth in the region, and create the conditions for developing a new cooperation partnership.
Our European Neighbourhood Policy was updated to take account of the developments in the Mediterranean. In May last year, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and the European Commission published a joint communication on a new approach to strengthening the partnership between the EU and the Neighbourhood countries.
In terms of research and innovation, the focus is on working towards the development of a "Common Knowledge and Innovation Space" that would pull together policy dialogue, national and regional capacity-building, cooperation in research and innovation, as well as greater mobility for our researchers.
An important basis for our approach, both in the EU and with our Mediterranean partners, is an awareness of the role that science, research and innovation play in economic and social well-being, and of the importance of coordinating national efforts to tackle our common societal challenges.
Our proposal for Horizon 2020, the EU's programme for Research and Innovation for the period 2014 – 2020, takes full account of the need to integrate efforts and to cooperate to tackle societal challenges, and it will be our principal instrument for supporting Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in research and innovation.
With an overall budget of 80 billion Euro over seven years, Horizon 2020 will present a wealth of opportunities for researchers in EU and Mediterranean countries to work together. I hope that many of you will take part.
I would also like to underline that cooperation with Mediterranean countries is not just a priority for FP7 and Horizon 2020 in the field of research and innovation, but also for other EU policies and Programmes such as Environment or Marine and Maritime Affairs. I am delighted, therefore, that tomorrow my colleague, Commissioner Damanaki, will present her views on an integrated marine and maritime research area in the region.
I know that the agenda of this conference is very full – we have so many things to discuss - but I very much hope that you will all actively participate and contribute to the preparation of the research agenda for our renewed partnership. We want to hear your views. You are the experts, this is why you are here!
We want to define the objectives and the main elements of a medium- to long-term agenda for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in research and innovation. Over the next two days, we also want to identify the priority areas of cooperation to address the key societal and structural challenges facing the region.
To get the ball rolling, here are some of my ideas on what we need for a successful, renewed partnership.
First of all, the agenda for our renewed partnership should be based on the principles of co-ownership, mutual interest and shared benefit.
Our common agenda should also be comprehensive, covering the whole chain from research to innovation – or from lab to market. Our agenda should mobilise all the relevant stakeholders and participants, such as universities, research centres, industry, organisations that promote innovation, financial institutions and investors.
Our agenda should promote a better integration between programmes for development, higher education, research and innovation, as well as better coordination between the policies and programmes of the EU, its Member States and regions and the Mediterranean countries. In this way, we can increase the scope, scale and effectiveness of our cooperation.
I wish you a productive and stimulating two days of discussions. Good luck with your work - I look forward to seeing the results.