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Globalization Creates Opportunities for Increasing Scientific Excellence – an Introduction of the Strategic Forum for International Scientific and Technological Cooperation

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / OpEds & Commentaries
By Riitta Mustonen

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Mustonen RittaThe Strategic Forum for International Scientific and Technological Cooperation (SFIC) was established by the Competitiveness Council in December 2008 to develop the European Research Area's international dimension. SFIC is a partnership platform in the field of S&T cooperation and a strategic and advisory body to the Council of the EU and the European Commission in international STI cooperation. The EU Member States and the European Commission are members of the Forum while countries associated with the 7th Framework Programme have observer status.

There is an urgent need for Europe to engage more actively and strategically in international cooperation and discuss common priorities, as uncoordinated activities and isolated bilateral agreements can lead to fragmentation and duplication of efforts. Global challenges call for global solutions and, with work already being carried out in global research networks, research does not recognize geographical boundaries.

The proposal of the European Commission for the Horizon 2020 program for 2014-2020 reflects the policy priorities set in the Europe 2020 strategy and introduced the grand societal challenges that Europe must address in coming years. Tackling these challenges requires cooperation among a variety of actors in the EU and internationally. Europe and its Member States cannot act alone: Global cooperation with countries outside Europe will be needed to find solutions.

SFIC was established by the Competitiveness Council in December 2008 to develop the European Research Area's international dimension. It aims to facilitate the further development, implementation, and monitoring of the international dimension of the European Research Area by consultation and sharing information among the partners. The basis for this cooperation is the identification of common priorities that could lead to coordinated or joint initiatives, and the coordination of activities and positions vis-à-vis third countries and within international forums. The activities of SFIC are implemented on a voluntary basis following the principle of variable geometry: The added value of SFIC is created by optimizing the use of national, European, and global resources while avoiding duplication of activities.


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Until now SFIC has launched initiatives with a regional focus on India, China, and the US and is starting to explore initiatives with Brazil, Russia, or South Africa. In addition, the first steps have been taken towards a common European strategic approach in the international dimension of S&T, in accordance with the SFIC mandate. The international dimension of the European Research Area is crosscutting and intersects all actions of the Research Area: research infrastructures, joint programming initiatives, researchers' careers, and knowledge transfer.

The first concrete cooperative action of SFIC started with India. A joint EU-India conference was organized in November 2010. In June 2011 the Commission together with the EU Member States organized an information tour to attract Indian researchers to Europe and inform them about the research funding opportunities Europe offers. Within this context, the main aim of the India initiative is to establish the basis for a common Member States/EU-India Strategic Research Agenda and a roadmap for research and innovation that includes a series of instruments for enhanced networking activities, mobility schemes, and SME cooperation with India.

Regarding China, SFIC organized the "Approaching China" workshop in spring 2011 to reflect joint European target setting for cooperation with China. A second workshop was organized in December 2011, aimed at deepening our comprehension of framework conditions such as IPR, standardization, and relationships between science and industry. Europe's main goal for cooperation with China is to strengthen the Chinese-European partnership by enhancing the quality, efficiency, and capacity on both sides to solve joint problems. This brings Europe fresh opportunities to strengthen European well-being and competitiveness by accessing new knowledge and markets; by tackling societal challenges that are global in nature; and by increasing the attraction of Chinese talent to Europe and vice versa.

As previously mentioned, another very important priority country for SFIC is the US. The US is by far the most important partner for European researchers outside the European Research Area and this relationship is reciprocated. Cooperation of the EU and its Member States with US partners can build on strong existing links, rich experience, and well-established relations. SFIC is currently formulating a joint European roadmap leading towards coherent and lively cooperation between the US and Europe. The aim of the SFIC activities is to create opportunities for thematic and mobility cooperation between the US and Europe.

In October 2011 SFIC organized a workshop "From common challenges to joint responses – adding a new dimension to EU/Member States' cooperation with the USA" to mark the beginning of a new chapter in EU-US cooperation in research and innovation. Two other conferences have been organized to formulate the SFIC pilot initiative with the US and drive it forward. The conference "Science and Technology Landscape in a Changing World" took place in December 2011 in Washington, DC, under the auspices of the Polish Presidency of the EU, and the conference "Destination Europe – Your Research and Innovation Opportunities" was held in Boston in January 2012.

The need to tighten cooperation between the EU and the US has been emphasized on both sides of the Atlantic. The already existing strong alliance between the EU and the US, based on common values and traditions, could be further enhanced. This applies particularly to the research and innovation sector, which plays a role in recovery from the economic crisis. In Europe, the Member States' initiatives such as Joint Programming, the ERA-NETs, and Joint Technology Initiatives have the potential to further develop cooperation with the US. On the US side, for example, the new SAVI (Science Across Virtual Institutes) scheme of the National Science Foundation is an innovative concept for fostering interaction among scientists around the world.

It is of utmost importance that Europe have a strategic approach to global-level cooperation with the countries having the greatest investment in research. The European Union has 27 Member States and, without a jointly agreed upon strategy, their activities will remain fragmented. Coordination of Member States' actions is needed to achieve the greatest impact. This is not an easy task; but it is worth trying. For this reason, SFIC will now put all its efforts into formulating and contributing to a European Strategy for international STI cooperation, to develop the external dimension of the European Research Area. While devoting itself to defining and fostering European added-value and establishing a clear methodology for joint actions, SFIC can offer a real platform through which the Member States, Associated Countries, and the European Commission can engage in strategic multilateral global cooperation.

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