The Relevance of S&T Cooperation between Europe and the United States in the Context of Global Challenges

Impressions of a Qualitative Study based on a Fulbright-Schuman Scholarship

bridges vol. 30, July 2011 / Feature Articles

By Sabine E. Herlitschka

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Today's major societal challenges are global in nature. Some of the most obvious ones are climate change, energy supply & efficient energy use, and global health issues. Science & Technology (S&T) are key factors and essential for finding solutions to these challenges. International cooperation in S&T has become imperative, as global challenges require global approaches. No individual nation or region has the resources to respond adequately and effectively.

In this globalized "S&T Enterprise," does the transatlantic dimension - in particular, the cooperation of Europe and the United States - still play a role? Is Europe, together with the US, still able and/or willing to provide the leadership for driving the development of solutions to global challenges? Or have other dynamics become more important in Europe and the US - factors such as the rapid development of Asia, and China in particular?

{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}These and similar questions were the starting point for my putting together a proposal: to conduct an interview-based study on the views and perceptions of key stakeholders in

About the Fulbright Program
Originally initiated by US Senator William Fulbright after World War II for the "promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science," the Fulbright Program has become the most widely recognized and prestigious international exchange program in the world, supported for more than half a century by the US and its respective partners worldwide (click here for a bridges article on the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Austria).

transatlantic S&T cooperation.  After some 20 years of professional life in various sectors - from industry to academia, from research to research management - I wanted to combine my professional experience in European & international S&T cooperation with a deeper understanding of transatlantic cooperation.  I needed to get new insights, some "fresh air" for my brain, so I submitted my research proposal to the Fulbright-Schuman Program.
I had always thought of the Fulbright Program in two ways: first, as a program for academics, several of whom later became presidents and Nobel laureates; and, secondly, as a program that probably has the best-established alumni culture. A Fulbright Scholarship for a non-academic professional with a focus on broader issues of transatlantic S&T partnership was not something that I expected or thought would be within reach. However, the Fulbright-Schuman Program that was set up between the US and the European Commission seemed to match my interests exactly. Funded by the US Department of State and the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission, it awards grants to citizens of the US and European Union (EU) Member States to advance understanding of the EU and to promote US-EU relations.
Within six weeks after submitting my application, I was informed of the positive result of the evaluation. What a surprise - both in terms of content as well as process and speed!

Background and context of transatlantic S&T cooperation vis-à-vis global challenges

Who else, if not the two major mature economic powerhouses - Europe and the US - should take initiatives with respect to the above-mentioned global challenges? Representing approximately 54 percent of the world GDP in 2011, this partnership provides opportunities and assumes responsibilities to tackle these global challenges, as discussed repeatedly on the occasion of the recent EU-US Summits.
The EU-US relationship dates back to the 1950s, with regular EU-US Summits to assess and develop transatlantic cooperation. In the area of S&T, the EU and US concluded a S&T Cooperation Agreement in 1998, renewed it in 2004, and extended it for another five years in July 2009. The scope of the cooperation has been enlarged, including security and space research among a range of fields. However, despite political goodwill on both sides, it is interesting to see some opposite developments as well - particularly regarding the general orientation towards real international S&T cooperation and the diverging focus on specific thematic areas such as climate change or security. The economic crisis and the broader political environment have contributed to more inward-looking attitudes both in the US and in Europe, thus challenging also the transatlantic partnership.

era_logo_small.jpg Since the adoption of the Lisbon Strategy in 2000, the EU has committed itself to building a European Research Area (ERA) that extends the single European market to the world of S&T - ensuring open and transparent "trade" in S&T skills, ideas, and know-how. As globalization at all levels demands that European research looks outward, international S&T cooperation forms an integral part of EU S&T policy. It includes programs that enhance Europe's access to worldwide scientific expertise, attract top scientists to work in Europe, and contribute to international responses to shared problems. This openness to international S&T cooperation is also reflected in the Europe 2020 Strategy and related flagship initiatives agreed upon last year.
At an operational level, the EU research flagship program - the 7th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development & Demonstration (FP) - has been expanded in scope and opportunities for international S&T cooperation, in addition to the massive funding made available under previous FPs. With its broad perspective, the FP can be understood as an immense "science diplomacy" agent, opening and funding cooperation with all regions of the world.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisted. Published by the US National Academies, 2010.

In the US, the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm", the American Competitiveness Initiative, and the "Strategy for American Innovation" had a motivation similar to that of the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategies. This motivation was reinforced by the financial crisis and major follow-up documents1to those mentioned above, as well as by statements including the recent State of the Union Address of President Obama. As much as the US S&T system is organized differently and in a decentralized way, truly coordinated international S&T cooperation has not yet come to play a substantial role. In addition, the ever-increasing security concerns plus related regulations undermine efforts to increase international S&T cooperation, as seen in the reduction of short- and long-term visits of external researchers to the US. But there are promising developments as well. One example is the use of S&T cooperation in the context of science diplomacy as an effective smart power instrument. Moreover, initiatives such as the US-EU Energy Council established in 2009 also indicate the intention to take new routes in strategic energy S&T cooperation.

The study's objectives, methodology, and evidence base

The study was set up as a qualitative approach based on interviews and information that explored views, perceptions, and expectations of key stakeholders in the field of transatlantic S&T cooperation. Core questions included:

  • What are the status, relevance of, and the experiences from former or current transatlantic S&T cooperation?
  • Which oopportunities and new mechanisms for increased transatlantic EU-US S&T cooperation could be developed under the present conditions?
  • Which options are available for the development of effective joint efforts?
  • Are there any examples of coordinated "science diplomacy" efforts?

In the study, "Europe" refers primarily to the European Union and its more substantial, typically strategic activities in S&T at the EU level. Due to the focus on major global challenges, individual scientist-to-scientist cooperation was not taken into consideration for the study. As for the activities of single EU Member States, these were considered to some degree, although not in a comprehensive way.

While the study focused on strategic European-American relationships, it also addressed issues of international S&T cooperation in which both Europe and the US are responding (or should/could respond) to joint opportunities in other parts of the world, e.g., Africa, Asia, etc.
A broad evidence base was generated: The results of this study have been derived from 80 extensive personal contacts (interviews, questionnaires), approximately 50 events/ conferences/ hearings related to the wider study issues, and approximately 50 relevant published reports and reflections, in order to expand the base for the study. The final results will be summarized in a comprehensive report, including policy recommendations.

The study's results

Although the final results plus policy recommendations are not yet available, the following issues were repeatedly mentioned, and thus represent important dimensions of transatlantic S&T cooperation:

  • The economic reality: Europe and the US are the biggest players in economic terms and their economies are heavily interconnected and dependent on each other, even though not commonly perceived and appreciated as such.
  • Complexity of systems: Each respective system is perceived by the other side as highly complex, and there are strong trends - both in Europe and in the US - to be more inward-oriented. In Europe this is shown by the further development of the European Union as well as the European Research & Innovation Area and its consequences, and in the US by the current overall political situation and orientation.
  • Diverging driving forces: Competition versus cooperation, short-term versus long-term orientation, knowledge generation versus business generation, etc - Where can Europe and the US find common grounds in dealing with global challenges?
  • Common understanding of joint vision, values, benefits, strategies: There are a number of issues on which Europe and the US could get together, based on common interests. However, the existence of enough real joint ambition, appreciation, and shared priorities - though important - is questionable. Instead, typical simplistic prejudices repeatedly arise on both sides.
  • International orientation: The perception of real international S&T cooperation is fundamentally different on both sides, with the US currently driven by the "hype" of China. Also in the case of international cooperation, it is true that money follows strategy, assuming that where there is no money there is no interest.
  • Experiences, to date, in strategic transatlantic S&T cooperation: Many key stakeholders in Europe and the US are unsatisfied with the way strategic transatlantic S&T cooperation is organized, as the traditional procedures no longer seem to fit in terms of approaches, timing, content and dynamic. Efforts in the context of transatlantic economic and innovation-related discussions seem to be gaining momentum.
    • Mechanisms: Many of the same hurdles still exist as many years ago. What could be a way to move forward, if effective approaches are really sought?

In conclusion ... on a personal note

For further information on the results of the study:
The results of the Study “Views, Perceptions and Expectations of Stakeholders on Strategic Transatlantic Science & Technology Cooperation in Response to Global Challenges” will be published within the next few months. For details please contact the author directly at: s_herlitschka[at]

What I perceive as special about the Fulbright Program - particularly in comparison to other mobility and exchange programs I have dealt with in my professional context - is that the Fulbright Program focuses ultimately, and radically, on the capabilities and the potential of the individual by providing maximum freedom. Naturally, the project put forward is important. However, the Fulbright program conveys the message that the funding is provided in order that grantees' creativity and energy can make the very best of this opportunity, whether or not the results achieved are the ones first envisaged or some alternative route.
The very nature and philosophy of the Fulbright Program are best summarized by one sentence in the introductory letter received by every beginning grantee: "You have not just been selected because of your academic or professional achievements but because of your leadership potential." Consequently, the success of a Fulbright grant is not only evaluated against predefined professional results, but by the degree to which the opportunity is used proactively, by the interactions and contacts developed beyond the professional dimension, and the extent to which sustainable networks are built with people in the US.

Of course this approach works only for special "characters." For me this setting was motivation "at its best" and made me work like a dog - while enjoying it like crazy.


About the author: Before embarking on her transatlantic research project, Sabine Herlitschka has been director of the Division of European and International Programs in the Austrian Research Promotion Agency.

Her research was made possible through funding by the Fulbright-Schuman Program. It was implemented from November 2010 through April 2011, and was hosted by George Washington University/Elliot School and Johns Hopkins University/School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Center for Transatlantic Relations.
Starting August 1, 2011, Herlitschka will join Infineon Technologies Austria as a member of the Board of Director, responsible for R&D as of 2012.


1.   Rising Above the Gathering Storm, revisited, 2010:

      America Competes Reauthorization Act, 2010:

      PCAST Reports: