Research in Information Technologies is one of the significant sources of innovation and industrial development . Countries all over the globe have recognised the importance of RTD for industrial and economic progress and many have established schemes and programmes to encourage appropriate efforts. Researchers from the Union - academic groups as well as those from research centres and from industry - have already a long tradition of cooperation with their counterparts in other industrialised regions of the world.
The EC R&D programme for IT, ESPRIT, has brought together researchers and engineers from its Member States and created a pan-European research and development community. Its objective is primarily to reinforce cooperation between European industrial enterprises and to strengthen the technological base of the Union. However, new orientation is needed in approach, in procedures and in methods of working.
The new focus will be the emerging information infrastructure , the set of services and technologies providing easy access to information to any citizen or enterprise, at any time, in any place. This will be the "Global Village" for the citizen and the "Global Workbench" for the enterprises. While this development will lead to a new information society, industry itself is undergoing a restructuring as it moves towards an information based economy. New forms of global cooperation are required and measures to encourage international cooperation in IT play an increasingly significant role to complement activities within the European Union.
Many of the reported actions are directed towards the emerging global information society which is considered one of the most challenging changes in the future. Academic institutions are found to be usually the first to pick up new opportunities while industries including small and medium enterprises enter the field of cooperative research later and only if the economic perspectives are found to be satisfactory and promising.
The primary objective of the RTD in Information Technology is to enhance industrial competitiveness. Joint research plays an important role in the Commission efforts for external relations and particularly the IT field is a prominent area for global actions towards the emerging Information Society.
International cooperation within the IT R&D domain has to respond to the setting of appropriate sectoral as well as to geographical priorities, objectives, mechanisms and timing which vary from region to region. The following main objectives have been selected:
The aim is to further the EU's interests by ensuring that the direction of the Union's industrial research is in tune with the potential international markets, to improve the competitiveness of Europe's industry, to optimise its efforts by seeking access to scientific and technological sources in these highly developed countries which conduct RTD similar or complementary to that conducted by the EU. Cooperation with industrialised non-European countries is in addition required for the implementation of very large research projects for which a purely European base would be too small. Furthermore, international cooperation is a necessity for research in the preparation of standards.
The aim of this activity is to enable the developing countries - whose level of development is very diverse - to be associated with the generation of knowledge and innovative technologies needed to solve their specific problems and to reach a sustainable economic development. Developing countries have a potential for large markets for IT products and services; they also have a reservoir of human resources which could enhance the global expertise on research and on implementation of the technology.
The aim is to safeguard the scientific and technological potential of these countries by means of redirecting IT research towards social needs and to restore their production systems. These countries have had a long tradition of European education and industrial development but were heavily distorted by the political systems for many decades. Differences between various countries are substantial, in particular between the CEE countries and the NIS, but all have a large potential of excellent researchers and institutions.
IT research was mainly carried out within the military industrial environment. Its redirection into civil applications is a goal for the EU as well as for the concerned countries.
Individual exploitation of IT and Communication Technology was not on the agenda of the socialist societies, while in the West "information" advanced to the key factor for technological development. It is expected that Eastern markets - being now in a period of difficult and painful transitions - will catch up, thus providing opportunities and demand for cooperation with the West.
The EU's instruments to encourage joint research activities includes a variety of schemes which have been developed in the course of European tradition of cooperation in R&D. The variety of possibilities for non-EU organisations to participate in the specific programmes of the 4th Framework, including ESPRIT, appears to be most promising to encourage global R&D-action in IT-research.
The supported actions originated from proposals for joint projects and networks which were submitted in response to public calls - e.g. schemes for Central and Eastern Europe (CCE) and newly independent states of the former Soviet Union (NIS) since 1991 and COPERNICUS 1994 and 1996 -, from actions and programmes stimulating the collaboration with emerging economies and developing countries, particularly in the Mediterranean region (e.g the ITDC scheme and the INCO-DC programme), from an agreement between the Commission and the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States to encourage collaboration between projects of the ESPRIT programme and their US counterparts and of proposals for pilot projects and accompanying measures in specific domains of IT. A scheme to provide support to partners of successful joint projects was established under the name "Keep in Touch (KIT)" in order to avoid rapid break down of contacts after the end of such projects.
International RTD Cooperation in IT