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The international cooperation research programme commenced in 1983 when the European Commission launched a dedicated programme called the Science and Technology for Development Programme. It had three editions named STD1, 2 and 3, which ran in parallel with The Community's Research Framework Programmes.

In 1992, the Programme was integrated into the Fourth Research Framework Programme (1994-1998) as the International Cooperation Programme (INCO).

As a result of a Council Resolution in 1995, a Communication on the strategic role of international cooperation for development was jointly presented by Commissioners in charge of Research, External Relations and Development Cooperation in 1997. Thus, INCO was further developed in the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002) by strengthening systems and policy research with a view to meet demand for more integrated analyses and respond to the need to develop S&T policy dialogue with the major regions of the world.

The 6th Framework programme

In the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006) the INCO programme received impetus from the 2001 Communication on the international dimension of the European Research Area (ERA).

The 7th Framework programme

The Seventh Framework Programme (2007-2013) placed a new emphasis on international research cooperation, including by mainstreaming international cooperation across the entire spectrum of FP7 activities. The Seventh Framework Programme also included strategic activities underpinning the building of a European Research Area open to the world that require a policy dialogue with major regions of the world and true partnership with those countries with which an S&T Cooperation agreement has been signed.

International cooperation in research and innovation is a cross-cutting priority of Horizon 2020 (2014-2020). To enhance and focus the approach to international cooperation, the Commission adopted a Communication in 2012, proposing a new strategy for developing international cooperation actions.