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European Commission


European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science

"Enhancing and Focusing EU International Cooperation in Research and Innovation: a Strategic Approach"

Meeting with the Brussels Diplomatic Corps / Brussels

27 November 2012

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to this information event that will bring you up to date on the international dimension of the EU's research and innovation policy.

It is 18 months since we last organised such a big information event here in Brussels for our international partners. At that time, we met to discuss our green paper on future funding for research and innovation.

That green paper led to the proposals for the new Horizon 2020 Programme that are currently being discussed by the Member States and the European Parliament.

Today, I am very pleased to present to you another new policy initiative, the Communication adopted by the European Commission on 14 September containing a new strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation.

Scientists have long been at the forefront of international cooperation – in a very practical way! For centuries, they have crossed frontiers to pursue knowledge, to collaborate with colleagues in other parts of the world and explore new opportunities.

They have done this because it makes for good science. Indeed, cross border collaboration has always been the bedrock of the EU's research and innovation programmes.

So it makes perfect sense to cast the net wider and create and explore opportunities for research and innovation cooperation between Europe and the rest of the world. Not least because the societal challenges that we face today, such as climate change, the spread of infectious diseases or ensuring a steady supply of food and energy are so big and so complex that we need the world's best scientists to tackle them together.

During my travels over the last few years I have been privileged to meet many inspiring researchers and innovators – in China, the United States, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and, just last month, in South Africa.

Seeing at first hand the excellent research and innovation taking place in universities, companies and research centres in the four corners of the globe is another reminder that the global research and innovation landscape is changing profoundly and rapidly.

Growth economies are investing strongly in their own research and innovation base and there is a shift towards a multipolar world in which more countries are exerting greater influence.

At the same time, research and innovation are themselves increasingly international. The number of scientific publications that are co-authored by researchers from different countries is rising and multinational companies are investing more than ever before in research and innovation outside their home countries.

Alongside these trends, Europe remains an attractive location for research and innovation. It is also making major efforts to remain a partner of choice in international collaboration. To quote just one indicator - while the EU accounts for just 7% of the world population, it is responsible for 24% of world expenditure on research, 32% of high impact publications and 32% of patent applications.

All these trends present both challenges and opportunities to the European Union and its international partners. This obliges all of us to look closely at where we need to join forces and cooperate on the basis of common interests and mutual benefits.

It is no surprise, then, that international cooperation will continue to be a vital part of our research and innovation policy, and it will be an integral part of the new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020.

This new strategy builds on the achievements of the Seventh Framework Programme. There are many good examples, so let me name just a few.

  1. The 7th Framework Programme for Research has funded the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Programme, in which 14 EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland are cooperating with Sub-Saharan African countries in the fight against HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.

  2. Researchers from 80 different countries have participated in the immensely successful Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, while the European Research Council enables top scientists from anywhere in the world to conduct their research in Europe.

  3. The world-wide interconnection of research and education institutions through the GÉANT network has been largely funded by the Union, through both FP7 and its development cooperation instruments.

  4. The ITER project, where together with China, Japan, the USA, Russia, India and South-Korea, we are attempting to demonstrate the viability of nuclear fusion as an energy source, has also been one of our flagship international cooperation projects.

These are just a few high-profile examples. More broadly speaking, 20% of projects funded under the 7th Framework Programme include at least one international partner in the consortium – the top five countries are Russia, the USA, China, India and South Africa.

While we have taken great strides in international cooperation, it is clear that there is still much more to do.

Not only do we need to step up our engagement with our international partners, we also need to make sure that we cooperate in those areas where it can add most value, where there is a clear common interest and mutual benefit and where the potential impact is the greatest.

In short, the European Union stands ready to work together with its international partners to not only do more, but also to do it better. This is the basic rationale for our new strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation.

To this end, our new strategy lays down three key objectives for international cooperation:

  1. First: Strengthening excellence in research and innovation. By facilitating access to knowledge, people and markets across borders and across the globe.

  2. Second: Tackling global challenges. We need to cooperate internationally to tackle the major societal challenges that I referred to earlier.

  3. Third: Supporting external policies. Many of the international commitments we have signed up to need to be underpinned by research and innovation. This concerns, for example, international obligations such as achieving the Millennium Development Goals or our commitments to assist developing countries to develop their economies and societies.

Horizon 2020 is due to start in 2014 and it will be the main tool for implementing our international cooperation strategy.

As regards international cooperation, there will be a two-pronged approach. First of all, Horizon 2020 will be open to participants from all countries.

We invite "third country" partners to make full use of this opportunity to collaborate with their European counterparts on research topics of common interest.

There will, however, be a change in how funding is provided from the Union budget. We need to take account of the fact that a number of countries have invested so strongly in their research and innovation base that they are now able to cooperate with Europe on an equal footing.

While participants from the countries in question will no longer receive automatic funding from the Union budget, they will still be able to receive funding in exceptional cases, notably where reciprocal funding is foreseen or where their contribution is essential for carrying out the research project in question.

Secondly, as well as being open to participants from all countries, Horizon 2020 will also support targeted cooperation actions. In these cases, it will be for policy makers to decide upfront both the area and the partner for cooperation.

These targeted actions will be selected on the basis of common interest and mutual benefit. They will be developed from the on-going dialogues with our global partners.

Horizon 2020 will make a real improvement by ensuring a more strategic approach to the selection of these targeted actions, driven by clear selection criteria that are applied in a coherent manner across the whole programme. These criteria will relate to:

Complementarities in research and innovation capacity between Europe and its international partners;

  1. The potential impact on market access and competitiveness;

  2. The contribution made to international commitments such as progress towards the Millennium Development Goals;

  3. Lessons learned from previous cooperation.

We will ensure that actions are big enough in size and scope to have a substantial impact.

As regards the countries and regions we will cooperate with, our strategy identifies three groupings:

  1. Enlargement and neighbourhood countries and EFTA, where the focus is on aligning these countries with the European Research Area and where association to Horizon 2020 will be the instrument of choice;

  2. Industrialised countries and emerging economies: here the focus is strongly on competitiveness, access to knowledge and markets;

  3. Developing countries: where the focus is on enhancing the research and innovation capacities of these countries to aid them in their socio-economic development and to assist them in tackling the most relevant challenges.

The resulting targeted international cooperation actions will be clearly laid out in a set of multi-annual roadmaps that will specify, for each of our partner countries and regions, the topics on which we wish to cooperate.

The roadmaps will subsequently be implemented by the different actions available under Horizon 2020. These include collaborative projects, networking between existing projects or joint initiatives between the EU and other countries, such as coordinated calls.

In addition to these funding actions, there is particular emphasis in the new strategy on developing common principles for international cooperation.

These principles, which will be mutually agreed between the Union and its international partners, will enable researchers from across the globe to work together in total confidence.

The issues we are talking about include research integrity, gender, reciprocity and open access. In addition, protecting intellectual property rights will be particularly important as we move to Horizon 2020 and its increased support for innovation activities.

The new international strategy is also a further development of the international dimension of the European Research Area. In this respect, we are keen to find ways to deepen our partnership with EU Member States on international cooperation.

A good example is the work of the Strategy Forum for International S&T Cooperation, where we have made good progress on common strategic research and innovation agendas, for instance with India.

Launching the strategy is just the first step.

Making it work will mean the full and visible integration of international cooperation into Horizon 2020.

Making it work also means having a good governance structure. As part of this governance and to ensure that we stay on track, the European Commission will produce a report every two years to measure progress and assess impact. The first of these reports, which we plan to publish in early 2014, will contain the first multi-annual roadmaps.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Better international cooperation will help all of us to truly reap the benefits of research and innovation and to deliver the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that we are all seeking.

This strategy is a major step forward in achieving our objectives – your support for it is very important.

Thank you very much for your presence here today.

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