S&T cooperation as a “soft power tool”
On 10 April, 2015 participants of the XVI HSE Annual Conference’s Science and Innovation section hosted by ISSEK discussed various tools facilitating international cooperation in the scope of the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020. The experts considered the options available for joint funding of international research and innovation projects.
The workshop “New Challenges and Opportunities for Third Countries” was hosted by the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge as part of the INCONTACT 2020 international project of the EU 7th Framework Programme. The project aims to extend “third countries’” (Russia is one of them) participation in the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, and to strengthen cooperation of the programme’s National Contact Points (NCP) in the EU member states and third countries. Representatives of NCPs and national Horizon 2020 coordinators from Argentina, Germany, Israel, Russia, Turkey and Japan, and members of research centres from Austria and Hungary made presentations at the workshop. The first part of the debates was moderated by Andrei Polyakov, deputy director of the S&T Department of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the second part — by Nikolai Toyvonen, director of the Ministry of Education and Science’s International Department.
Horizon 2020 programme (to be implemented in 2014–2020) is a follow-up of the EU 7th Framework Programme (7FP) (2007–2013); it’s the biggest EU research and innovation framework programme so far, with the total budget of 80 billion euros. It combines three independent funding sources: the 7FP, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The programme’s primary objective is to promote the European Research Area (ERA) which would contribute to making Europe the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world.
The programme comprises three major sections: Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership, and Societal Challenges. Compared with the previous programmes, Horizon 2020 is aimed at more active involvement of small and medium enterprises into projects, and commercialisation of obtained results. Accordingly, provision of funding is envisaged at all project stages — from the original idea to marketing of end products.
Richard Burger, research and innovation counsellor at the Delegation of the European Commission to the Russian Federation, noted a major characteristic of the new framework programme which is the shift from basic research and development of industrial technologies towards interdisciplinary research and development, and meeting global challenges relevant to the EU and other countries. These include climate change, ageing of population, etc.
In 2014–2015, Horizon 2020 will concentrate on 12 subject areas including personalised medical services, food safety, renewable energy, etc.
Organisations and researchers from all over the world are eligible to participate in the programme, by submitting project proposals to the programme calls as part of consortia comprising European partners. Note that successful applicants from third countries (i.e. countries which do not pay a contribution to the programme’s budget) can expect the European Commission’s funding only if their countries are classified as “developing”. Developed countries — such as the USA, Canada, South Korea, Russia, Brazil, Mexico — must provide their own funding to their participants. However, there are exceptions: participants from developed countries may receive the European Commission’s funding if they have a unique resource they’re willing to make available to all project partners.
Russian researchers already participate successfully in Horizon 2020 projects, studying climate change, sun flares and their impact on the weather and communications. Representatives of developed economies, both from third countries and associated countries – participants of Horizon 2020, spoke about the research and innovation cooperation with the EU.
In the scope of Horizon 2020, Japanese scientists have the closest ties with Germany, the UK, and France, while the most active participants are universities and national research institutes, noted Hiroshi Matsumoto (EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, Japan). According to Monica Silenzi (Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation of Argentina), her country’s main partners are the regional neighbours, Brazil and Mexico.
All NCPs provide information and consulting support to organisations in their countries at project proposal preparation and project implementation stages. E.g. the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) whose work was presented by Ulutas Aydogan promotes participation in the EU framework programmes of organisations operating in the target sectors of the economy and research areas. Strengths and weaknesses of such organisations are identified, and financial and information support is provided to them.
Hungarian businesses’ participation in international S&T cooperation projects is rather low: after the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern block, the existing links between industrial and R&D organisations were destroyed while the new ones proved to be not so efficient, noted professor Pal Tamas (Corvinius University, Hungary). The professor also pointed at the problem of relations between the centre and the periphery in the European Union, which is relevant to the EU framework research programmes, too. According to the scientist, the “periphery”, or the new member states, do not benefit from participation in the framework programmes (or receive much smaller benefits).
Klaus Schuch, head and research director of the Centre for Social Innovation (Austria) noted that in terms of the market share, the new EU member states (those who’ve joined the Union after 2004, or the EU-13) significantly lag behind the average EU level (the EU-28) in the health and ICT sectors. Special levelling mechanisms are in place for these lagging countries (financed out of structural funds), which can also be applied to the R&D sphere. Obviously, investments in this area must be accompanied by structural reforms of national and regional innovation systems. And participation in the programme is particularly important to smaller countries who cannot conduct all necessary R&D on their own. They should actively get involved in development of S&T cooperation at the political level, too, which is a “soft power tool”.
The central issue of the workshop discussion was third countries’ participation in Horizon 2020 and the previous framework programmes. Among key difficulties hampering more active participation of Argentinian researchers and organisations, Monica Silenzi mentioned the mismatch between the programme’s tools and the third countries’ interests and potential (due to inadequate preliminary discussions); limited information available to the EU about cooperation opportunities with third countries; insufficient interaction and communications between European and Latin American countries, including priority setting for future programme calls. She suggested to simplify project participation procedures, and more actively involve experts from third countries into expert panels evaluating project proposals. Hiroshi Matsumoto noted that national NCP networks should be developed to establish links with Horizon 2020 project partners and coordinators.
Marcel Shaton (Israel-Europe Directorate for the EU Framework Programmes, Israel) believes that countries — new participants of the Horizon 2020 programme, especially non-associated countries (i.e. those not paying a contribution to the programme budget) must maintain permanent presence in Brussels, to establish adequate links with the European Commission and receive reliable information well in advance. Richard Burger confirmed that despite the communication technologies’ progress, personal contacts remain a major factor affecting decision-making on partnerships with European consortia.
Maria Josten (German Aerospace Centre, Project Management Agency European and International Cooperation) stressed the need for closer links between Horizon 2020 and national research and innovation support programmes. As an example she cited ERA.Net projects (funded under the 7FP) which allowed to streamline mechanisms for joint funding of multilateral research and innovation projects by the EU and relevant research funding organisations in third countries, including Russia.
The discussion participants agreed that to countries involved in Horizon 2020, obtaining new knowledge and networking was more important than securing the EU funding. E.g. Germany contributes to the programme budget significantly more than gets back through grants made available to German organisations and researchers. Still, the country very much benefits in terms of obtaining new knowledge and industrial technologies. Marcel Shaton noted that for Israel, access to the EU research and innovation infrastructure was important — due to insufficient development of its own. He added that an efficient way to promote R&D organisations’ participation in Horizon 2020 would be to provide funding not just to successful applicants but also to those involved in innovation activities in high-priority to the country areas. Some of the workshop participants stressed the need for more active involvement of companies not just in innovation, but also S&T cooperation projects in the scope of Horizon 2020.
Summing up, Richard Burger named the main success factors for third countries’ participation in Horizon 2020: S&T potential, government policy promoting S&T and innovation cooperation with the EU, and cooperation culture which would promote setting up and implementation of joint projects.
By Victoria Baldicheva and Liliana Proskuryakova