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United Europe of Research and Innovation:

Intercultural Cooperation in Practice

bridges vol. 29 April, 2011 / Feature Articles

By Sabine E. Herlitschka

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For an easy-to-read introduction to FP7 in 21 languages, see the brochure, "FP7 - tomorrow's answers start today“.

With its Framework Programs (FP) for Research, Technological Development, and Demonstration, the European Union - back in the year 1984 - set up what have become the largest cooperative, as well as competitive, research and technology programs in the world.

Designed with the objective of strengthening European competitiveness, the Framework Programs have evolved into the flagship instrument contributing to the development of a European Research Area, a single European market to the world of science and technology - ensuring open and transparent "trade" in skills, ideas, and know-how, and creating a United Europe of research and innovation.

Having brought together approximately 400,000 teams of researchers, several of them repeatedly, from Europe and around the world in funded projects, the impact of the Framework Programs extends far beyond providing funding for these projects. Indeed, the key strength of the Framework Programs is that they have nurtured a culture of cooperation between the best universities, companies, and research organizations in Europe and beyond, bringing together different actors, sectors, cultures, genders, and nationalities. This capacity for intercultural cooperation is what Europe has developed and professionalized over the past 25 or more years. Today, this capacity provides European research communities with a key competitive asset and advantage: the ability to contribute to solving global challenges by international, thus, intercultural cooperation between the best "brains" in science, technology, and innovation.

Why is intercultural cooperation important? 

Intercultural cooperation is understood here as multifaceted cooperation across sectors, disciplines, actors, nations, cultures, and genders. Intercultural cooperation has become a key feature, requirement, and decisive competitive advantage, and is driven by factors such as globalization and the increasing complexity and speed of interactions in all areas, from economics to society to technology, to name only a few. In Thomas Friedman's words: "In the Cold War, the most frequently asked question was: ‘Whose side are you on?' In globalization, the most frequently asked question is: ‘To what extent are you connected to everyone?'"1
Intercultural challenges in wider political and economic terms can be summarized as follows2:

  • The recent growth of the European Union with a current membership of 27 nations with highly diverse histories and forms of governance, 23 different languages, and a number of different religions poses new intercultural challenges. Realizing the goals that led to formation of the European Union and maximizing its potential will depend on the ability to cope with the vast diversity within - and between - the European Union nation states.
  • The global economy with the recent acceleration in globalization has brought new regions into focus. Mumbai and other megacities in India are developing at an unprecedented rate. Shanghai and other Chinese commercial centers are booming. In today's world, economic success is to a large extent based on intercultural competencies.
  • The integration of immigrants is an intercultural opportunity and challenge in itself. Millions of migrants are currently scattered across the globe. While they contribute significantly to the economy of their host countries, they also support relatives back home and represent links between other cultures and nations and their home communities. In the host countries, the role of immigrants (beyond their obvious economic relevance) has become a major issue for discussion, particularly in Europe. Do they have to "integrate" themselves into the host countries' environments? What would "integration" mean and require? What kinds of values do the host countries nurture and represent vis-á-vis immigrants? What public policies and political messages do host countries need to convey in order to develop mature intercultural societies?
Global challenges require global approaches.

In science, technology, and innovation (STI), intercultural cooperation is highly required. The major challenges of today's societies are of a global nature, as illustrated by the most obvious ones such as climate change, energy supply and efficient energy use, global health issues, etc. STI are key factors and essential contributors to finding solutions to these challenges. International cooperation in STI has become imperative, as global challenges require global approaches to advance our collective knowledge, and no single nation or even region has the resources to respond adequately and effectively by itself.

The concept of Open Innovation summarizes another major development significantly related to intercultural cooperation: innovation processes representing a complex interaction and exchange of various actors, including companies, academia, markets, and users. Initially published by Henry Chesbrough in 2003, and based on his research into the innovation practices of large multinational companies, the concept of Open Innovation describes a new paradigm for the management of industrial innovation in the 21st century (click here for a 2007 bridges article on Open Innovation by Bill Gauster). In this paradigm, firms work with external partners to commercialize their internal innovations and to obtain a source of external innovations that can be commercialized3.

The bottom line in a globalized world - particularly in STI - with ever-increasing opportunities and challenges is the ability to build and expand a network of key partners and to identify the most suitable partners based on their expertise. This has become THE competitive advantage. Intercultural cooperation represents an essential component, and is the key to unlocking and effectively using this capability in developing cooperations across sectors, disciplines, nations, genders, and cultures.

{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} On the way to a United Europe of Research and Innovation

era-logo_small.jpg Attempts to develop joint European research and technology policies started in the early 1970s. The starting points were Europe's fragmentation and its related competitive disadvantages compared to other major economic powers. As a consequence, a range of European initiatives and programs in the fields of research and technology were set up and funded, contributing to the creation of various truly European projects.

However, by the end of the 1990s it became obvious that there was no virtue in funding "more of the same" types of projects. Instead, global challenges such as energy security and climate change demanded new approaches: The time was ripe for the "European Research Area," which not only represents a concept but a comprehensive vision for Europe's further development:

"The European research area should be an area where the scientific capacity and material resources in Member States can be put to best use, where national and European policies can be implemented more coherently, and where people and knowledge can circulate more freely; an area attractive both to European researchers and to the best researchers from third countries and built on respect for the common social and ethical values of Europeans and their diversity."4

The European Research Area (ERA) is Europe's visionary response to dealing with global challenges. It is an effort to take advantage of Europe's diversity and turn it into a comparative advantage by overcoming outdated geographical, institutional, and disciplinary boundaries. The ERA extends the single European market to the world of science and technology, ensuring open and transparent "trade" in science and technology skills, ideas, and know-how.

Adopted along with the Lisbon Strategy, the first "bold" objective for turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy, the ERA was adopted in 2000 by the heads of states and was followed by the Barcelona Objective, which aimed to increase research investments to 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product by the year 2010. These steps led to a series of activities at European as well as Member State levels, creating a dynamic of benchmarking processes, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and strategy development. During these years, Europe experienced its most substantial enlargement, with 12 new Member States.

In 2008 all Member States and the European Commission agreed on a shared vision of how the European Research Area should develop by 2020. By adopting the 2020 Vision for ERA, Member States and the Commission agreed to develop the ERA in ways that would contribute to the sustainable development and competitiveness of Europe.

In the year 2010, the Europe 2020 strategy5  was adopted by Member States as the strategic framework for Europe's development for the next 10 years, focusing on intelligent, sustainable, and inclusive growth. The "Europe 2020" Strategy will be implemented through seven so-called Flagship Initiatives, the strategic plans for seven key areas.

Among them, the Innovation Union - the strategic orientation in the fields of STI - indicates an orientation towards "turning ideas into jobs, green growth, and social progress," thus representing further development by integrating open innovation principles and focusing on innovation at all levels.

The globalization at all levels demands that European research should look outward. Therefore, international science and technology cooperation represents an integral part of EU STI policy. It includes programs that will enhance Europe's access to worldwide scientific expertise, attract top scientists to work in Europe, contribute to international responses to shared problems, and put research at the service of EU external and development policies. This principle of openness to international science and technology cooperation is also reflected in the Europe 2020 strategy and its related flagship initiatives.

With its broad perspective towards opening cooperation and funding with all regions of the world, European science and technology instruments can also be understood as huge "science diplomacy" agents, even though they are not currently perceived as such in Europe, and thus not yet intentionally employed in this way.

Intercultural cooperation in practice: EU Framework Programs for Research, Technological Development, and Demonstration

The EU Framework Programs can be seen as a bold visionary statement - investing European taxpayers' money in targeted areas of joint European and global relevance, and thus fostering European competitiveness in science, technology, and innovation. These programs provide incentives for enhanced European networking and intercultural cooperation. No other region or country worldwide has taken a comparable step, either in ambition or dimension.

The current 7th EU Framework Programme (FP7) for Research, Technological Development, and Demonstration, with its budget of some €50.5 billion from 2007 to 2013, was even expanded in scope and opportunities and comprises a vast range of science and technology topics, measures geared to enhancing mobility of researchers, excellence in research, small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as international cooperation.
Since 2007 more than 61,500 proposals (including more than 306,000 participants) have been submitted to FP7. Of these, more than 10,500 projects involving more than 63,000 participants (a total request of approximately. €20 billion) were selected and funded6. These figures represent the practical potential of the projects' and organizations' cooperative capacity in terms of:

  • generating scientific knowledge made available by scientific papers,
  • innovative technologies and processes summarized in joint patents,
  • future cooperation, dissemination, and exploitation activities of partner organizations that have worked together on EU Framework Program projects.

More important than the quantitative indications - such as the numbers of projects funded - are the qualitative developments behind the figures. The EU Framework Programs have changed substantially and sustainably the way in which European researchers work together, affecting all actors: universities, research organizations, companies, research administration and management, as well as organizations that use research results. Transnational and interdisciplinary cooperation in large, multiannual research projects poses high demands and requires a broad set of capabilities, bringing about enhanced quality in all areas of research.
These types of projects challenge researchers to develop qualitatively new capabilities and competencies that go far beyond the "typical" capabilities of internationally active researchers with success in research and publishing.

Among the most important qualitative learning experiences in European research projects, are the following competencies:  

  • Strategic competence: Development of multiannual research projects with clearly defined objectives in response to European needs and in line with the strategic conditions of the EU Framework Programs;
  • Management competence: Application and development of tailor-made transnational and international project management approaches geared to deliver results in terms of scientific knowledge, new technologies, or new processes; 
  • Intercultural competence: Intercultural cooperation with researchers across sectors, disciplines, types of organizations, nations, cultures, and genders;  
  • Competition competence: Successful promotion of research projects in the European competition for the best research projects, including active participation and dealing with the uniform Europe-wide selection procedure, convincingly presenting planned projects to European/international evaluators and selection committees.

Intercultural competence plays a specific role, although it has often been underestimated. Indeed, a key strength of the Framework Programs is that they have nurtured a culture of cooperation between the best universities, companies, research organizations, and the wider society in Europe and worldwide. This capability and competence in intercultural cooperation is what Europe has developed and professionalized over more than 25 years, practicing it through hundreds of thousands of researchers working together through incentives in a defined context. It now provides European research communities with a key advantage and competitive asset.

Thus, in practice, intercultural cooperation means that participation in the Framework Programs not only stands for bringing together a good idea and a minimum number of partners. Instead, intercultural competence has become an important element of wider project management skills, based on the idea that excellence in research requires excellence in management. Therefore, successfully competing for Framework Program funding also requires professional management of content and different partners. Although many researchers tend to complain about the requirements for sound and professional project management in the European Framework Program projects, these project management requirements form the basis for bringing together and taking full advantage of the various partners' expertise, cultures, and interactions in an organized way.

United Europe of Research and Innovation "2.0"

The ongoing development of what can be perceived as the United Europe of Research and Innovation will require advances particularly in the following dimensions:

  • Further developing a true European Research Area by finally abolishing the hurdles that have been discussed over recent years, and providing the framework conditions to truly build the knowledge and innovation economy to which Europe has committed itself. The "Europe 2020" Strategy with its flagship initiatives is the right start. Its success will critically depend on committed implementation at all levels (regional, national, European) in a timely way with a clear sense of urgency to achieve real results;
  • Simplification and trust-based conditions for science-, technology-, and innovation-related European programs while considering accountability requirements for what's really necessary, thereby fostering the best research and innovation in Europe;
  • Globalization entails some overarching features, most obviously: 
    • strategic connections and new dynamics
    • technology as driver
    • democratization of technology and information and its implications for societies, their governance structures, and individuals.

Coordinated European approaches to these "globalization" challenges will be highly needed. Science, technology, and innovation based in Europe, with its rich resources in content AND intercultural expertise, will be able to contribute significantly. "Science diplomacy" as an instrument for applying science, technology, and innovation toward wider political purposes bears a strong intercultural component that offers explicit benefits when employed across policy areas.

Intercultural cooperation has become a key feature, requirement, and a decisive competitive advantage. The European Union with its Research Framework Programs has not only provided funding but created incentives to develop wider learning experiences and the resulting capabilities and competencies. Among these, intercultural cooperation in science, technology, and innovation has been nurtured and professionalized in recent decades, with significant outcomes.

This practiced intercultural capability and competence is what distinguishes Europe from any other country or region in the world, and it provides Europe with a key strength for the requirements of the interconnected world of the 21st century. Europe can and should build upon this strength more explicitly, and take advantage of it in dealing with the perceived global challenges.


The above article is based on a paper by the author that will be published in its full version in Fall 2011 in the first edition of the journal EU-Topias. EU-Topias is an intercultural journal of communication and European Studies, co-published by the Departamento de Teoría de los Lenguajes y Ciencias de la Comunicación (Universitat de València. Estudi General, UVEG) and the Institut Européen de l'Université de Genève (IEUG). The journal will be available online at:

About the author: Sabine E. Herlitschka is director of the Division of European and International Programs in the Austrian Research Promotion Agency. She was awarded a Fulbright Schuman Scholarship for 2010/2011 at George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University-SAIS, in Washington, DC.


1. Thomas Friedman "The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Understanding Globalization"; Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1999
2. Intercultural Competencies:
3. Open Innovation Community:
4. Towards a European Research Area, COM(2000) 6 final
5. European Commission (2010a), ‘Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth', Communication from the Commission, COM(2010) 2020
6. Proviso Framework Programme Monitoring, Nov. 2010, funded by all Austrian Federal Ministries with responsibilities for Research, based on data provided by the European Commission