Global Europe in research and innovation
The greatest challenges facing humanity require countries to work together. At the Marseille Conference on March 8, Europe explored the way forward for international collaboration in research and innovation.
Now more than ever, we are witnessing the achievements made possible by research, when countries work closely together and have access to the right tools and expertise to get the job done. Years of international research collaborations in academia and industry have underpinned the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the development of vaccines.
At the same time, the geopolitical developments of the last decade have shown that collaboration must sometimes be modulated. The illegal Russian military aggression against Ukraine is a clear example of such a development. The EU strongly condemned the invasion and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the sanctions would include limiting Russia’s access to crucial technologies, such as semiconductors or advanced software. The Commission has suspended cooperation with Russia in research and innovation and Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel, published a declaration.
However, with countries that respect the fundamental values, the EU is committed to keeping an open approach. It’s not just beneficial, it’s necessary.
Foster mutually beneficial international cooperation in research and innovation
“It is not possible for a single country to tackle challenges such as climate change or pandemics, which know no borders,” said Doctor Frederique Vidal, French Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation. “Joining efforts, knowledge and capabilities is key to addressing these global challenges.”
The Minister addressed the Ministerial Conference on a comprehensive approach to research, innovation and higher education. Held in Marseille on 8 March, the event highlighted the global nature of science and how the EU continues to reach out for cooperation with countries around the world, but also strives to ensure that collaborations are mutually beneficial and equitable. It comes a year after the European Commission’s own strategy document on “the global approach to research and innovation”.
The conference was jointly organized by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and the European Commission.
“The message of this conference to third countries is that the European Union is open and will remain open to international collaboration in the fields of higher education, research and innovation”, noted Minister Vidal.
The French Presidency will draft the “Marseille Declaration” on international cooperation in research and innovation. According to Minister Vidal, the Marseille declaration will promote reciprocity and fair conditions of competition, but also respect for fundamental values to guarantee researchers and innovators good working conditions.
“Humanity has a lot of crises right now. Not just the pandemic, but climate change for example,” said Dr Mostafa Moonir Shawravyoung researcher and holder of the chair Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA). “And we haven’t decided yet how to address these challenges.” He notes that despite the existential threat of Covid-19, there were no pre-existing coordinated efforts by governments prepared to deal with what was an acknowledged risk – a devastating pandemic.
He described the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines as the result of 20 years of basic science and collaborations between industry, policymakers and researchers. “Everything we appreciate today is due to the investment in research and the work done over the past decades,” he said.
Rebalancing global cooperation
The Marseille conference was a step to enable European countries to adapt to the significant changes in the international situation since 2012, when the previous strategy for international collaboration in research and innovation was drawn up.
“Global challenges require a global response, and in particular consultations between Europeans”, declared Minister Vidal, ahead of the conference. “On the other hand, the science and technology environment has become increasingly competitive, with some countries exploiting science or limiting the ability of researchers, students or innovators to collaborate with them.”
Some countries have closed access to certain research infrastructures, for example. This is why it is necessary to rebalance international cooperation, explained Minister Vidal, so that it remains reciprocal and mutually beneficial, but also respects the rights of researchers, academics and students.
Having the right structures in place will ensure fair and productive collaborations. Dr Shawrav emphasizes that science diplomacy is a way to encourage beneficial cooperation between nations and enable scientists to work together on big challenges.
An example is CERN, the European research organization that conducts high-energy physics experiments in particle colliders under the Franco-Swiss border. It is led by 23 Member States and also involves many non-European countries. CERN scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019.
Horizon 2020 projects often require the participation of researchers from three countries. “It’s really eye-opening for early career researchers, who come and attend different workshops,” Dr Shawrav said. “And understand, okay, the world is a lot bigger than I thought before, and the topics and the challenges are bigger, but then they see the opportunities are a lot bigger because you can collaborate with people. others, even on a global scale.”
For the Marseille conference, building a common approach at European level is something that the French Presidency of the Council of the EU wishes to promote, Minister Vidal said. It will allow the future implementation of the work started by a Communication of 18 May 2021, on the global approach to research and innovation, reinforced by the conclusions adopted by the Council of the European Union on 28 September 2021.
Promote principles and values
The update is seen as necessary at a time when geopolitical tensions are rising and human rights and core values are being questioned, with concerns over threats to academic freedom, gender inequality , intellectual property rights issues and unequal competitive conditions.
At the same time, the world’s greatest challenges require European and other countries to come together and leverage their scientific know-how to develop solutions.
“The Union is distinguished by the general openness to the world of the Horizon Europe program and the opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programmes,” said Minister Vidal. Erasmus+ is the EU program to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.
“We see the Marseilles conference as an important step towards launching a multilateral dialogue based on the key principles and values discussed between member states during the conference, such as freedom of academic research, ethics and integrity and research excellence, third countries should be encouraged to respect these conditions”, added Minister Vidal. “Thereafter, the continuity of this dialogue will have to be ensured.”
She indicated that the negotiation of roadmaps between the Union and its partners is also an interesting instrument, as shown by the ongoing dialogue with the People’s Republic of China.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally publishedin Skylinethe European magazine for research and innovation.