Across the Atlantic: a Review of US-EU Cooperation in Science & Technology

bridges vol. 21, April 2009 / Feature Articles

By Manfred Horvat

The following article is based upon the Review of the Science and Technology Cooperation between the European Community and the USA 2003-2008, published in January 2009, and co-authored by the author of this article and Keith A. Harrap.

The full report is available at

agreement_on_science_and_technology_small.jpgIn December 19971, the first agreement on science and technology (S&T) cooperation was signed by the United States and the European Community (EC). Its goal was to foster transatlantic research cooperation, notably through implementing arrangements between the European Commission and US government departments and research funding agencies. It was foreseen that the agreement should be reviewed every five years before being extended for another five-year period.

In mid-2008, Keith Harrap and I were assigned as independent experts by the European Union to conduct such a review (click here for detailed information on the review procedures) for the period 2003-2008; the first impact assessment was carried out in 200323, . On March 26, 2009, the findings of our review were presented to the EC-US Joint Consultative Group, the steering body of the S&T agreement. The present article summarizes our conclusions and recommendations.

Why S&T agreements?

questionmark.jpgThe European Community has concluded S&T Agreements (STA) with various third countries4 such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, India, Egypt, India, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Africa, Tunisia, and Ukraine. An agreement with New Zealand was signed on July 16, 2008, and should enter into force in 2009. Currently, the Community is negotiating or considering negotiating S&T agreements with Japan, Jordan, and Algeria.

These agreements constitute a framework and a privileged forum to identify common interests and priorities, to ensure a regular policy dialogue, and to develop the necessary tools and instruments for S&T collaboration. They offer a political, legal, and administrative framework for coordinating and facilitating cooperative S&T activities between European legal entities and international partners, thereby strengthening the international dimension of the European Research Area.

Under the umbrella of certain agreements "Implementing Arrangements" can be signed between the European Commission and third countries' government departments and funding agencies to better organize collaboration in specific areas of research. These have been a particular feature of the EC-US STA.

The S&T Agreement between the European Community and the US

us_eu_small.jpgThe STA is seen as an important platform for the regular S&T policy dialogue between the EU and the US. Compared to the earlier periods of the agreement since its signing in 1997, the reporting period of 2003-2008 has seen a substantially increased intensity of interactions. On both sides, there is increased awareness of the importance of transnational S&T cooperation. However, information on and awareness of the STA and the opportunities for supporting EU-US S&T cooperation could still be strengthened.

One major point to address is the low US participation in the EC Framework Program and the opportunities available for intensification. Administrative provisions have been improved, but there are still barriers and hurdles that should be reduced. Our report identified perspectives for enhanced cooperation by balancing the bottom-up approach of opening EU and US programs for mutual participation against a strategic approach focusing on jointly identified priority areas implemented by coordinated calls or program-level cooperation. The arrangement between the NIH and the European Commission can act as a model.

At present, EU Member States and Community S&T activities lack coherence, complementarity, and also visibility as "European S&T." We see opportunities for better coordination and cooperation in different organisational settings. The new Strategic European Framework for International S&T Cooperation will provide a forum for Member States to develop joint strategies and cooperative activities where appropriate and beneficial.

The role and the management of the EC-EU S&T Agreement

network_small.jpgThe EC-US STA is an important and efficient tool for the regular S&T policy dialogue between the European Community and the government of the United States, with the aim of intensifying EU-US S&T cooperation and the exchange of experience and good practice in the area of S&T policy. Not only should it be continued, but it should be extended, possibly considering new areas such as, e.g., security and space and also new forms of activities such as program-level cooperation.

In general, S&T agreements also have the potential to play an important role in the frame of the implementation of the new Strategic European Framework for International S&T Cooperation5, especially in the context of further moves towards strategic partnerships between groups of EU Member States and key non-EU countries. Of course, the ways and means of setting targets and implementing activities must be developed accordingly, which will be the task of the new Forum for International Science and Technology Cooperation that was recently established during implementation of the above framework. The Forum will be the body in which EU Member States and associated countries will develop joint strategies and programs.

Compared to 1998-2003, meetings of the EC-US Joint Consultative Group (JCG) are greatly improved, regarding both scientific content and participation of high-level stakeholders. Particularly, the preparation of road map documents is a real advance and should be developed further. The road map summarizes the plans for cooperative activities for the next year which, on the European side, forms the basis for including cooperative activities in the annual work programs of the European Research and Technological Development (RTD) Framework Program.

There are opportunities for strengthening the links between external policies and S&T policy and between the declarations of EU-US Summits and implementation of the S&T agreement.

During the reporting period, the directorates of the "research family" of the European Commission have shown substantial involvement in the interaction with the US in the frame of the EC-US STA. Thus, the internal awareness and utilization of the STA among the Commission services has been enhanced. However, opportunities remain for better utilization of coordination and cooperation across directorates and directorates general (DGs).

In general, on both the EU and the US sides, information on the EC-US S&T agreement, and information on the opportunities for S&T cooperation between the European Union and the US and the programs and instruments supporting the cooperation, should be further improved.

EU Member States and S&T experts should be better informed about the agenda and outcomes of JCG meetings and, where appropriate, invited to provide input. In formats that are in accordance with the rules of the JCG, information on the main outcomes of JCG meetings should be widely circulated among S&T stakeholders of the Member States (e.g., via the Member States' S&T counsellors in the US and the Forum for International S&T Cooperation), National Contact Points (NCPs), and the S&T community at large. Also, preparation and implementation of the road maps could be used to intensify the exchange of information and the cooperation between the European Commission and the Member States.

In 2003-2008, as in the past, the prime implementation tool for EC-US S&T cooperation was the EC RTD Framework Program. Strategies for balanced use of EC and US funding instruments for supporting EC-US S&T cooperation have yet to be further developed. Future initiatives for funding EC-US S&T activities could learn, especially from the example of best practices in health research - as of 2009, FP7 and NIH funding opportunities will be reciprocally open to entities on both sides6. Opportunities for similar approaches in other areas, and with other research promotion actors, should be systematically explored.

In the further development of a European strategic framework for international S&T cooperation, the whole spectrum of possible cooperative arrangements should be explored and utilized in complementary ways: EC-US cooperation in the EC Framework Program, joint EC-US S&T programs, EC-US cooperation in US programs, cooperation in variable configurations between groupings of Member States and US partners, and bilateral cooperation between Member States and the US.

The Science, Technology and Education Section of the EC Delegation to the US shows excellent performance, but would require more human resources to act as the vanguard of EC S&T activities in the US. Also coordination and cooperation should be strengthened with Member States active in the area of S&T cooperation with the US.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Cooperative activities between the EU and the US in 2003-2008

activities_small.jpgParticipation of US partners in European research activities and vice versa is still low, and there is huge potential for improvement. In the 6th Framework Program (FP6, 2002-2006) there were some 400 US participations in 358 projects with European partners. In concrete numbers, the leading thematic cooperations were 38 projects in Information and Communication Technologies, 20 projects in Life Sciences, and 16 projects in the area of Climate Change. Considering that in FP6 there were a total of some 75,000 participations in some 10,000 projects, this is a very small number and in no way reflects the huge potential for cooperation.

The strongest cooperation occurred in the area of researcher mobility. A total of 226 European individual research fellowships (Marie Curie fellowships) were awarded for mobility to the US, and 40 fellowships for mobility from the US to Europe. There were also training network type activities under the Marie Curie scheme, in which there was a more substantial flow of researchers from the US to the EU. In general, it is interesting to note an increasing interest in researchers going from the US to Europe, thus showing a trend towards a balanced exchange of researchers. Problems of financial transactions and the issue of funding the host institutions should be analyzed and improved where necessary. Experts recommended preparing a specific review focusing on the international dimension of the Marie Curie fellowships.

However, it is difficult to judge the appropriate level of US participation in the Framework Program because there are no agreed-upon goals for US involvement. In the future, defining targets or criteria for success should be considered in the annual road maps in order to support monitoring and impact assessment of the collaborative activities. This issue should probably be addressed also by the newly formed Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation but also, of course, by the EC-US Joint Consultative Group.

The means for promoting EC-US S&T cooperation must be strengthened. This applies to targeted promotion activities of the National Contact Points in the Member States and associated countries, especially in the course of implementing the EC-US S&T road maps. Creating greater awareness in the US of opportunities for EC-US S&T cooperation will also be necessary. The new FP7 BILAT scheme has the objective of providing information and assistance for international S&T cooperation between the EU and partner countries of S&T agreements. In a recent Call for Proposals, proposals for a BILAT project with the US were also invited. This would be the appropriate instrument to achieve the goal of greater EC-US S&T cooperation. Close coordination with the S&T sector in the EC Delegation in the US, and with US departments and agencies, will be necessary. Presentations of European S&T - and the Framework Program in particular - at AAAS annual meetings are most welcome.

So far, EC-US S&T cooperation is following a kind of bottom-up approach through the principal openness of the EU Framework Program for international cooperation. For the future, coordinated calls in areas of mutual strategic interest should be extended. In addition, opportunities for EC-US S&T program-level cooperation should be explored jointly involving the Framework Program; and programs of US government departments and agencies in mutually agreed-upon areas of strategic importance should be considered. Common procedures for project evaluation, selection, and funding can be defined in implementing arrangements.

FP7 has a totally new specific program, the IDEAS program, implemented by the European Research Council7. The program offers Starting Grants for young researchers forming their first independent group and Advanced Grants for experienced researchers. The sole selection criterion of the program is scientific excellence. The program has a budget of some €7 billion (ca. US $9,264 billion) for 2007-2013. The IDEAS program has the potential to attract researchers from the US - both US nationals and others - to Europe. Therefore, the consideration of the ERC Scientific Council for developing an internationalization strategy is most welcome.

At the time this report is presented, a "Fourth Status Report on European Technology Platforms" is about to be published by the European Commission. Experts recommend preparing a review of the international dimension of European Technology Platforms. In addition, experts recommend also that a review of the international dimension of Joint Technology Initiatives be conducted two years after initiation of the Joint Undertakings.

Finally, a comparative study on the regional distribution of US participation in the Framework Program and the geographical structure of US federal, NSF, and NIH R&D funding would be of interest.

Direct response from the S&T community: some results from the online survey

community.jpgThe online survey of US partners in FP6 and FP7 and European coordinators of FP6 and FP7 projects with US participation brought useful insights into the cooperative activities.

More than two-thirds of the projects were initiated from Europe; a bit more than 25 percent were joint initiatives. More than 80 percent of the projects were based on existing contacts, mainly of the project coordinators. A bit less than one-third had already worked together in the Framework Program.

For the European project coordinators, the most important reasons for involving US partners are access to complementary experience and expertise, the possibility of addressing more ambitious problems, and access to the US scientific community. For US participants, the most important reasons to get involved in EU projects are access to complementary experience and expertise, access to the European scientific community, and the possibility of addressing more ambitious problems.

Project proposals were prepared in about 40 percent of cases by the project coordinators; more than 50 percent of the proposals were prepared either by a core team of project partners or in teamwork involving most of the project partners.

In some 30 percent of the projects, the US partners were strongly involved in preparing the proposal.

More than 40 percent of the European coordinators did not use external information and assistance. Their main sources of information were experienced colleagues and others. Only about 13 percent of coordinators used the services of National Contact Points. For the US participants, it was mainly the coordinator who provided information and assistance. One-third of US participants didn't use external information and assistance, the main sources of information being the coordinator. None of the respondents used the services of the EC Delegation in Washington. Of those participants that used external information, some 20 percent were interested in gaining general information on the Framework Program, and 14 percent were interested in "How to prepare a proposal."

In general, the most important outcomes were access to complementary knowledge and the production of new knowledge, followed by the possibility of addressing more ambitious problems, and the opportunity to establish new partnerships for future transatlantic research cooperation. Almost 90 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the EU-US cooperation was successful. Cooperation in the project will continue after the project's end, and the quality and relevance of the project was improved by the EU-US cooperation.

The main causes for difficulties were differences in management approaches and cultures (more than 50 percent), IPR issues (about 38 percent), reporting requirements, communication, and exchange of information in the consortium.

Regarding the awareness of the EC-US S&T Agreement, a small minority (about 6 percent) of the respondents knew the STA in detail; more than 50 percent knew the STA by name; and 37.2 percent of the respondents did not know the STA at all.

Success stories

success_small.jpgThe resources available in the present review did not allow an in-depth and detailed analysis of the cooperative activities in FP6. However, we were able to identify most successful cooperative activities, e.g., in the frame of implementing arrangements between the European Commission and the NSF, EPA, DOE, NIH, and NIST in areas such as health, information and communication technologies, food and biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials, energy, environment, and metrology. Having already been established in 1993, the Task Force on Biotechnology Research is a very good example of long-term EC-US cooperation.

It is recommended for the purposes of reporting at JCG meetings and also for providing material for increasing the visibility of the EC-US S&T cooperative activities, that a more systematic identification of Success Stories and Flagship Projects be undertaken, together with discussions of why and how the success was achieved.

Effective publicity for such success is needed; one example of an excellent publication is recognized by this review8. It is recommended that this type of publicity should be built upon wherever possible. Presentations at AAAS Annual Meetings in symposia and in the frame of the exhibition are also very efficient and effective. In addition, results from cooperative projects should be highlighted in scientific presentations at conferences in the US and in Europe.

Mutual benefits

mutual_benefits_small.jpgMutual benefits achievable in the EU-US S&T cooperation - in general and under the auspices of the STA - might be categorized by policy benefits: benefits to the people directly involved in science and technology and/or its strategic development; scientific benefits; take-up of research results and, more especially, commercial benefits; and administrative benefits relevant to the operations embraced by the STA. With the resources available in this review, it was not possible to evaluate the take-up and commercial benefits. However, because they are of real importance, such a categorization is mentioned here and special study of the issue is recommended.

During the development of joint activities in the JCG, the benefits to be achieved through S&T cooperation should be addressed in a structured way and used for monitoring purposes.

Short visits and staff exchanges between the European Commission and US departments and research-funding bodies for joint policy learning would also be a useful tool, allowing better mutual understanding of respective funding practices as a basis for planning future joint activities.

Obstacles to EU-US S&T cooperation

escalator_small.jpgDespite the general positive assessment of developments of the EU-US S&T cooperation during the reporting period, the experts also identified barriers and obstacles that hinder cooperation.

Although it is recognized and welcome that previously identified administrative and legal hurdles for international activities under the Framework Program have been reduced through adaptations of the contractual provision, there remains a distinct and widespread perception on the US side that the Model Grant Agreement is still a real problem with the potential to further adversely affect EU-US S&T working relationships. The Commission needs to review the specific barriers for third country participation in FP7 in the course of the coming midterm review. Whether administrative and legal provisions can be defined in a way that can be adapted to conditions of cooperation with specific third countries, without compromising the legal framework as requested by European Commission rules, is a question that should be explored.

In the course of analyzing the online survey, the problems of funding US partners in EU-US projects were seen as most striking. If both sides see transatlantic S&T cooperation as useful, beneficial, and important, then appropriate mechanisms on both sides should provide funding opportunities for all partners in joint projects. This important issue, presenting an obvious barrier to cooperation, should be addressed when organizing coordinated calls or joint programs and especially implementing arrangements. The approach developed between the European Commission and NIH in the Health theme should serve as a model in other areas.

Almost 40 percent of respondents to the online survey expressed concern about  provisions regarding IPR management in FP6 and in FP7. The problems related to IPR issues should be further analyzed by the Commission and the US counterparts, to develop a mutually acceptable solution. In considerations of IPR provisions, close cooperation with Member States would be useful, including learning from their approaches and experiences in bilateral cooperation activities with the US .

S&T representation and activities of Member States in the US and their relation to EC activities

relationship_small.jpgA number of EU Member States are especially active in bilateral S&T cooperation with the US. In some cases, successful bilateral activities are also elevated to the EC level. Experts see many opportunities for cooperation between Member States, which would probably increase the effectiveness of European S&T.

However, at the moment, European research is presented in the US mainly as the activities of 27 Member States plus the European Commission. In addition, there is practically no overview of Member States' S&T activities with the US, and certainly little coherence between EC and Member States' cooperative activities with the US. Therefore, a study is recommended to produce an overview of Member States' individual, and possibly also joint, activities and to review their coherence with EC-US S&T activities.

During one of our visits to US agencies, a US official commented on the fragmented presentation of Europe's S&T activities: "It would be good to have ‘one plug-in' to Europe." indicating that the different roles of Member States and the Community may sometimes be confusing for the US counterparts.

In the future, opportunities for joint programs in different arrangements between several Member States and US partner organizations (e.g., ERA-NET schemes) in strategic areas of cooperation should be utilized to complement EC-US cooperation in the Framework Program.

In time, Europe as a whole may want to improve S&T visibility, and will develop relationships with its US opposite numbers through more coherent action. That is an ambitious objective and might create tension between cooperation and competition, but at least a start should be made toward achieving some synergies in presenting European S&T capabilities to a collaborator with the importance of the US.

To raise the visibility of European S&T in the US, the idea of establishing a "House of European S&T" in the US should be explored in close consultation with the Member States. Appropriate EC funding schemes, like CSA, could be used for such an initiative. This issue should be discussed in the newly established Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation9.

Prospects for future developments

future_thumb.jpgThe view has been expressed that some broader issues need to be considered in all EU-US S&T cooperation. Among these are the use of EU-US S&T results to feed into broader policy debates and decision making, the importance of reflecting together on the societal impacts of research, and outreach to domestic and international audiences, including the developing world.

The present is a particularly opportune time for realizing the potential of cooperative S&T activities between the EU and US. On the US side, experts have witnessed an increased interest in international S&T cooperation - visible last year in the report of the National Science Board10  and in a hearing before the US House of Representatives11. On the European side, the Strategic European Framework for International Science and Technology Cooperation12 is a main foundation supporting the further development of the international dimension of European Research Area, and provides an additional basis for strengthening EU-US S&T cooperation through better coordination, among EU Member States, of their respective cooperative activities with the US. The recently published evaluation of FP6 also stressed the importance of strengthening international S&T cooperation13.

A broad spectrum of cooperative opportunities exists, as defined in the road map. It is recommended that the JCG discuss whether and how these should be prioritized and whether the best approach to cooperation is to foster breadth or depth of activities. Our recommendation is to move towards a strategic approach in areas of common interest and mutual benefit, thus supplementing the "bottom-up" approach of utilizing the general openness of the EU Framework Program, and to pursue opportunities as e.g. offered by NIH for targeted cooperation via coordinated calls and program-level cooperation in jointly identified priority areas.


The author, Manfred Horvat, is professor of “International and European Research and Technology Cooperation” at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien).

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