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Science capacity building through EU-Africa radio astronomy partnerships: European Parliament gives stamp of approval!

The future of radio astronomy in Africa looks brighter following the successful adoption of a European Parliament Written Declaration on science capacity building in Africa, the brainchild of a cross-party group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Written Declaratio...

The future of radio astronomy in Africa looks brighter following the successful adoption of a European Parliament Written Declaration on science capacity building in Africa, the brainchild of a cross-party group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Written Declaration 45/2011 calls on the Commission, the Council and the Member State parliaments to support the development of science capacity in Africa through greater investment in research infrastructures, with a particular focus on closer European-African partnerships in radio astronomy. The declaration states that further European involvement in African radio astronomy would be a powerful driver of socioeconomic growth in Africa and could open up new market opportunities for both continents. The declaration's architects are pushing for EU funding mechanisms such as Horizon 2020 to formally incorporate these aims into their strategies. Africa possesses exceptional competitive advantages in radio astronomy that are not available in Europe, reflected in the impressive array of projects already under way on the continent. One such project is South Africa's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. Set to be the world's largest radio telescope, the SKA could help astronomers increase their capacity to solve long-standing puzzles about the Universe. Both South Africa and Australia are bidding to host the SKA, which will be the world's largest radio telescope, and a decision from the international astronomy community on who'll be selected is expected in a few weeks time. Five MEPs championed the Written Declaration: Polish MEP Filip Kaczmarek from the European People's Party (EPP); Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez and Teresa Riera Madurell, both Spanish MEPs from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D); British MEP Fiona Hall from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); and Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini from the Greens/European Free Alliance Group. Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels on 21 March, Minister for Science and Technology of South Africa, Ms Naledi Pandor, hailed their efforts and their success in getting 394 MEPs to join up to the initiative and voice their support. Minister Pandor also highlighted the importance of moving on from viewing Africa as just an aid recipient, and emphasised that Africa has well and truly entered the knowledge economy: 'Today is also Human Rights Day in South Africa, held to remember the 69 people killed on this day in 1960 when police opened fire at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid laws. If you had told me on this day in 1994 when I was at a human rights rally that on 21 March 2012 I would be campaigning for partnerships in science in the European Parliament I would certainly not have believed you, so we have come a long way. I believe any advance in science is an advance for humanity.' Filip Kaczmarek said: 'We think this was such a successful written declaration among MEPs as it is a cross-party initiative and it is not politically controversial.' Judith Sargentini added that 'although the scientific part might not be understandable to everyone, the job opportunities this will create are. People often don't associate Africa with science, so this can change perspectives'. Now the focus will be on how this thumbs-up for increasing science capacity can be turned into action. Written Declaration 45/2011 specifically highlights the potential role Horizon 2020 and the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) could play if new chapters were added on radio astronomy partnerships, and collaboration with Africa was added as a specific programme theme. The MEPs are therefore keeping their fingers crossed for the role of capacity building with a particular focus on astronomy to be added to the Horizon 2020 proposals. These are currently being discussed in meetings of both the Competitiveness Council of the European Union and the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee. Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn unveiled the Commission's EUR 80 billion Horizon 2020 proposals on 30 November 2011, and negotiations on the details of the 2014-20 flagship funding instrument are set to continue into 2013. The MEPs will also continue campaigning for the DCI, the EU's main instrument for providing development assistance through the general EU budget, to include a chapter introducing science as a driver for implementing the instrument's objectives.For more information, please visit:European Parliament's Written Declaration 45:http://www.tinyurl.com/WD45-2011

Countries

Spain, Netherlands, Poland, South Africa