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Opening the ERA to the world - communication

The European Commission has outlined its intention to open up the European research area (ERA) to the world by strengthening links with third countries, facilitating mobility and creating a new forum in a communication on 'The international dimension of the European research a...

The European Commission has outlined its intention to open up the European research area (ERA) to the world by strengthening links with third countries, facilitating mobility and creating a new forum in a communication on 'The international dimension of the European research area'. The Commission believes that a new openness well enable the EU to benefit from international cooperation in science and technology, paving the way for closer political and economic relations. Increased international synergies should improve the protection of Europeans' intellectual property rights in third countries as well as enabling access to knowledge and skills in non-EU states. The strategy should focus on a number of key areas, states the communication, namely making the ERA more attractive to the best scientists, enabling EU researchers access to knowledge and technology produced externally and experimental fields needed for EU research, developing scientific activities useful for implementing EU foreign policy and development aid and enlisting the scientific and technological resources of both the EU and third countries in initiatives that provide a response to significant world problems of concern to the Community such as food safety, environmental safety, health and major diseases connected with poverty. The communication also outlines the Commission's aim of raising its profile in activities undertaken at world level, specifically those focusing on food safety, combating infectious diseases associated with poverty, sustainable development and the interdependence of science and society. A number of courses of action are possible in order to coordinate activities between the EU and third countries, claims the paper. These are: - coordinating appropriate activities undertaken within Member States; - opening up national programmes for international cooperation in research or networking national activities for international scientific cooperation in line with the Commission proposal on the new Framework programme; - funding the required participation of third country researchers or institutions in the activities in the networks of excellence or integrated research projects launched in the thematic areas considered priorities by the Community; - for specific countries, instigating specific EU scientific cooperation activities to generate synergies with the activities carried out under EU foreign policy or development aid policy. In terms of structure, the communication recommends setting up a forum for international scientific and technological relations. The forum would be responsible for coordination between the partners concerned, and would comprise of representatives from Member States, appropriate international organisations and the Community's scientific experts, as well as experts in foreign policy, development and research. Another task for the forum will be to participate in technology watch, analysing trends in science, technology and economics following feedback from technology watch activities at national level, within the ERA and by external partners. Explaining the need for technology watch, the communication states that 'the accelerated rate of technological change fuels the need to collect relevant information from around the world and to ensure that it is forwarded efficiently to European innovators.' Researcher mobility, which is seen as vital in strengthening cooperation between the EU and third countries, is envisaged as being supported by 'mechanisms that promote the return of those researchers to their countries of origin', in other words, return grants. Research Commissioner recently indicated that the Commission is looking at grants based on a 2+1 principle, funding a two year period abroad and one year back in the researcher's home country. Opening up EU research operations to research staff and organisation from third countries will benefit both parties, claims the Commission communication. The EU will benefit from access to new knowledge and skills, whilst talented research staff in scientifically less advanced countries will gain knowledge and experience that they can use to the benefit of their country of origin after returning from a placement in Europe. For this reason, networks of excellence and integrated projects, two new tools proposed for the next Framework programme, will be open to participation by researchers and institutions from all third countries. The communication does stress, however, that in order for this intensified collaboration to work efficiently, partner countries will be required to enhance their research capacity. The paper states that 'In future, PHARE, or any similar financial instrument may also in principle be used to top up national funding in order to enable the structural reforms needed in candidate countries, as long as they are considered to be a priority in the adhesion partnership.' 'Coordinating the international scientific cooperation policies of these States [third countries] will demand a genuine political will for Europe-wide cooperation on the part of the Member States and a major drive for coordination within the Commission,' states the document. Effort is also required on the part of third countries however. It is recommended that candidate countries be assisted in enhancing their research and technological development (RTD) and innovation systems. More links should also be developed between candidate country scientific communities and those of the Member States, asserts the paper. In the Mediterranean and Balkan partner countries, exchanges of knowledge, personnel and technological innovation must be promoted in order to foster socio-economic progress throughout the region. Research must also contribute to meeting basic needs, such as sustainable development, including integrated management of water, agriculture and the agro food industry. The communication outlines a twofold objective for Russia and the New Independent States (NIS). Firstly, to stabilise their research potential, and secondly, to tackle problems of mutual interest, such as health and environmental safety related to industrial change, including nuclear safety and energy issues. In developing countries, research must contribute to the socio-economic welfare of the citizens. The Community must develop strong links with these countries in order to address sustainable development, states the paper.