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Agreements and Platforms—Some Side Notes on the European Union's S&T Cooperation with Canada and the

by Stefan Neuhäuser

The cornerstones of the European Union's transatlantic cooperation in the field of science and technology are formal agreements between the European Commission (EC) with Canada and the United States.


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* The "Agreement for Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the European Community and the Government of the United States of America" was signed on December 5, 1997, in Washington, D.C., and entered into force on October 14, 1998 (cf. Official Journal L 284 of October 22, 1998, pp. 35-44).

 

* The "Agreement for Scientific and Technical Cooperation between Canada and the European Community" entered into force on February 27, 1996 (cf. Official Journal L 74 of March 22, 1996). The agreement was amended in 1999 (cf. Official Journal L 156 of June 29, 1999).

 

Whilst these agreements have been in place for a number of yearsthe agreement with the United States is currently being renegotiated, it is generally perceived within most of the S&T administrations of the European Union's member statesas well as within the European Commissionthat European-Canadian as well as U.S.-European research cooperation have not developed as desired under the S&T agreements. In the case of Austria, currently 15 Austro-Canadian collaborative research projects are under way involving 20 research institutions on either side, while slightly more than a hundred U.S. and Austrian research institutions are taking part in joint research undertakings within the frameworks of Framework Program (FP) 5 and FP6. But looking at the entirety of FP5 and FP6 projects involving Austrian research organizations, only a very small percentage (in the case of Canada, approximately 2 percent; in the case of the United States, approximately 3 percent) includes collaboration with transatlantic partners. Parenthetically, the same also accounts for the two mobility schemes, the agreement between the European Community and the Government of Canada renewing a cooperation program in higher education and training (2001) as well as the agreement between the European Community and the United States of America renewing a program in higher education and vocational education and training (2001).


 
Since only one assessment report concerning the S&T agreement with the United States has officially been released by the European Commission, I will focus on the findings of the expert panel that evaluated this agreement, although some of their conclusions might also apply to the agreement with Canada, as discussions within the EU have already shown.

 
One major reason for the low level of cooperation within the framework of the S&T agreement between the European Commission and the United States seems to be the lack of awareness on both sides of the Atlantic, as the independent panel of experts that drew up the impact assessment of the EU-U.S. S&T agreement concluded last year:

 
"Particular attention was paid to awareness of the existence of the agreement both in Europe and the USA. The feedback here was generally disappointing—especially in Europe where the agreement has achieved only limited recognition to the extent that discussions with some member states led to the requests for briefing on it. In the USAat the government department and the agency levelgreater awareness existed but even here the agreement is seen more as a legally-based facilitation mechanism or tool rather than a scientific initiative that might be built on. It seems that the S&T agreement has not achieved a very high profile in the scientific community because its benefits are not sufficiently tangible to those who have to undertake scientific research and seek funding in order to carry it out. Rather, it is regarded as a tool for officialdom that it is beneficial to have in place though it does not directly achieve particular added-value to the delivery of science itself." (European Commission, Impact Assessment of the S&T Agreement, p. 9)

 
Also adding to the low profile of the agreement within the S&T communities on both sides of the Atlantic is the fact that scientific endeavors based on these agreements occur on a self-funded basis for U.S. researchers, whereas Europeans receive funding centrally from the European Commission. Thus, the lack of clear provisions for funding, especially for American research institutions, further complicates cooperation under the S&T agreements.

 
These and other possible reasons why the S&T agreements with the United States and Canada have fallen short (so far) of substantially increasing collaborative EU-North American research have been addressed and discussed often within various European forums (most recently, this summer within the appropriate Program Committee of the Sixth Framework Program).

 
Hence, the European Commission has recently gone ahead with evaluating S&T agreements through the use of impact assessment reports. The report concerning S&T cooperation with the United States was published in late 2003. After the finalization of the EU-China impact study, which is due this fall, EC officials have indicated that the agreement with Canada is next in line for evaluation.

 
The panel of experts that prepared the impact study on the EU-U.S. S&T agreement found that there was little evidence of the agreement leading to "identifiable gains that could be linked directly to the existence of the agreement" (European Commission, Impact Assessment of the S&T Agreement, p. 20).

 
To exploit the potential of the agreement, the panel recommended various awareness-raising initiatives; improved strategic communication on the S&T agreement on the appropriate senior levels in the EC as well as within the U.S. administration; the establishment of task forces and action groups in different S&T sectors; and communicating to the United States the differences between the EU-U.S. S&T agreement and those of EU member states with the United States on a bilateral level ("European added value").

 
Further, briefing on the agreement, especially of EU member states, should be vastly improved and the U.S.-EU Joint Consultative Group (JCG) set up under the agreement should be more effective in its work: "The impression has been gained that the JCG is too formalized and is meaningful in the main only to those who have direct involvement with it" (ibid., p. 21). As was already mentioned, funding provisions—"a special budget envelope"—poses a major issue: "It is recommended that such attribution of funding equally from both parties within the context of the S&T agreement be established as a 'Seedcorn Fund' that would facilitate such initiatives. Because there appears to be willingness on the ground in the scientific community in the USA to cooperate with European colleagues in research projects it is likely that such an availability of catalytic funding would stimulate greatly increased activity" (ibid., p. 22).

 
The panel thus concluded that the S&T agreement should be renewed, "but that as part of the renewal process, commitment is made to establishing a strategy that will build effectively on the foundations laid in the first five years and better exploit the potential of the agreement on its renewal" (ibid., p. 22).

 
Building on these recommendations, the European Commission recently took a close look at the Forum on European-Australian Science and Technology Cooperation (FEAST) initiative as a model for the improvement of S&T cooperation with Europe's North American partners. FEAST is a jointly funded EU-Australian initiative aimed at identifying and supporting S&T cooperation between the two regions for an initial period of two years (2002-2004). Not being a funding body, FEAST is viewed as a "marketplace for S&T cooperation" by both the EC as well as the EC's Australian partners and was established under the first S&T agreement ever concluded by the European Union with an industrialized country (contracting entities: the EC and Australia's Department of Education, Science and Training/DEST, 1994). The assessment report on FEAST published by the European Commission this summer calls the initiative "overall positive" and names it as a likely "model for intensifying relations with other industrialized partner countries" (European Commission, Forum on European-Australian Science and Technology Cooperation (FEAST), Assessment Report, p. 29). In fact, the EC is currently discussing the implementation of platforms based on the FEAST model with a number of potential partner countries—reportedly, Canada is amongst them.

 
FEAST was initially established as a Web-based information and partner search initiative in 2000. Since 2002, an office in Canberra—inter alia responsible for the yearly business plan and budget—is maintained through an EC grant, whilst DEST funds are used to raise awareness and for promotional activities. FEAST's online database, electronic newsletter and e-mail alerts contribute to the development of research networks and the promotion of exchange and mobility activities. FEAST's intention is to act as a "one-stop shop" for Australian as well as European researchers willing to cooperate in all fields covered by the EU-Australian S&T agreement and has raised Australian participation in S&T projects within the European Framework Program significantly, as the EC pointed out this summer. It is thus very likely that FEAST will continue in its second phase from 2005 to 2008.

 
Taking into account the recommendations of the impact study on the EU-U.S. S&T agreement as well as the conclusions of the FEAST assessment—including the latter's recommendations concerning "FEAST as model for European cooperation with other third countries and world regions" (ibid., p. 29)—the EU will likely reach its aim in "stepping up activities with these nations [especially the United States, Canada and Australia who have all concluded S&T agreements with the EU] as a way of strengthening its own R&D capabilities and achieving the goal laid down for itself at the 2000 Lisbon summit of becoming the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world" ("Industrialized Countries: Sharing World-Class Skills," in European Commission, A worldwide vision for European research—Perspectives for international cooperation in science and technology, p. 44).
 


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