European Union

International cooperation, the cornerstone of the Seventh Framework Programme

One of the objectives of the new framework programme is to intensify strategic partnerships with third countries, namely within the framework of greater mobility among researchers. Sigi Gruber, head of communication for the international dimension of the Seventh Framework Programme, explains.

Specific International Cooperation Actions (SICA) allow for work on specific topics. For example the development of biodiversity in the Andes, for both environmental and agro-industrial reasons. Specific International Cooperation Actions (SICA) allow for work on specific topics. For example the development of biodiversity in the Andes, for both environmental and agro-industrial reasons.

Could you explain how the international dimension is being fully integrated within the Seventh Framework Programme?

The international cooperation approach in the Seventh Framework Programme is noticeably different from that adopted in the Sixth Framework Programme. It aims to integrate international collaboration with regard to research in the framework programme as a whole, and is targeted in terms of geography and subject matter.

In order to extend international collaboration, three basic principles have been adopted:

  • Firstly, the principle of programming. Unlike previous framework programmes, the Seventh Framework Programme, as a whole, implies the ‘mainstreaming’ of international collaboration, as well as the programming of specific priorities for third countries and regions. These priorities are included in the different calls for proposals in all thematic programmes.
  • Secondly, the principle of targeting defines specific activities with third countries and regions in each thematic priority within the specific ‘Cooperation’ programme. The Seventh Framework Programme therefore ensures the integration of budgetary packages for each of the corresponding calls for proposals.
  • Finally, the principle of partnership and dialogue is included in the specific international cooperation actions (SICA) which aim to bring about the balanced participation of third countries in collaboration with European partners.

The major new development therefore relates to two aspects. On the one hand, there is ‘passive’ (relating to all countries) or ‘targeted’ streaming. On the other hand, there are the SICA, which are activities intended for inclusion in each of the specific topics of the ‘Cooperation’ programme.

The ‘Capacities’ programme covers seven activities, one of which is reserved entirely for international cooperation. Using support measures, this activity should promote international cooperation with ICPCs (International Cooperation Partner Countries). It supports dialogue such as that in progress within the framework of the platform of the Western Balkan countries, bringing together different parties, such as universities, businesses, public authorities, civil society and donors. Moreover, this activity also supports the exchange of information with all ICPCs. This is aimed at allowing the EU and third countries and regions to discuss existing and future research priorities and to encourage debate between the different parties involved.

The Seventh Framework Programme is also open to partnerships with the major powers, such as the United States or Japan. How do you distinguish between collaboration and competition?

Two important points have to be made here. On the one hand, the EU has always implemented a support policy for collaborative and generic research. We can, however, expect an increase in competitive research in Europe, namely via the ‘Ideas’ programme, which makes provision for a single selection criterion: excellence.

On the other hand, certain partner countries, such as the United States, have shown preference for a competitive approach over a collaborative approach. However, here too things are changing, as American researchers are evolving towards a more collaborative practice due to the increasing cost of infrastructures and the multi-disciplinary nature of research to be carried out. I am thinking, for example, of the ITER project relating to nuclear fusion, around which real collaboration on a global scale has been crystallised.

How are potential partners reacting to the Seventh Framework Programme?

The Seventh Framework Programme is, without a doubt, the most ambitious scientific programme ever seen to date. Our American partners have to negotiate their budgets at length each year, within a context of a decline in public funding. In contrast, the Seventh Framework Programme makes provision for a constant increase, spread over a period of seven years. In general, our partners are enthusiastic about the idea of this new framework programme and want to play an active part in it!

International collaboration activities encourage mobility among researchers. What about the brain drain?

To tell the truth, the brain drain is a myth and we are striving to bring the term ‘brain circulation’ into common usage. During the last five years, we have implemented a series of measures aimed at making Europe more attractive and welcoming for both its own researchers and also researchers from the rest of the world.

But we do not want to play a part in the brain drain from developing countries. Therefore, within the framework of Marie Curie Actions and mobility grants launched during the Sixth Framework Programme, researchers from emerging economies and developing countries could receive a reintegration grant, which would enable them to return to their own country, in order to pursue their research activities and reintegrate. We are looking to continue this kind of initiative. For example, the Seventh Framework Programme makes provision for providing support for the scientific exodus from third countries, like those in Africa, so that researchers can continue to communicate with one another, whether they are in Europe or have returned to their own countries.

What present-day instruments allow greater mobility among researchers?

By way of example, I will mention three initiatives. In 2005, the European Council adopted a directive aimed at facilitating the obtaining of a scientific visa, which it hopes to see included in the legislation of all Member States between now and October 2007. The aim is to encourage foreign researchers into Europe. The second initiative, launched and jointly introduced within the Member States and countries associated with the Sixth Framework Programme, is based on the implementation of a network of over 200 mobility centres, which welcome researchers from all over the world and facilitate their entry into Europe. They will benefit from practical information related to looking for somewhere to live, obtaining a work permit, registration with a crèche or school, etc. The third initiative consists of the creation of a European portal for the mobility of researchers, which every day distributes between 900 and 1 000 offers of employment (http://ec.europa.eu/eracareers/).

To this, we can add the completely new ERA-LINK network (European Researchers Abroad - http://cordis.europa.eu/eralink), the aim of which is to create a network of European researchers abroad. We launched a pilot initiative in the United States in June 2006, with a view to putting expat researchers in contact with one another and informing them of what is happening in Europe with regard to R&D. The idea is to keep in touch and encourage them to continue to cooperate with Europe. At the present time, ERA-LINK is fully expanding, and we are looking to introduce it elsewhere, for example in Japan or China.

Of course, all these initiatives have been implemented in strict collaboration with the Member States, in order to establish a kind of job market for researchers in Europe.

Can you measure the mobility of researchers? Are researchers more mobile now than they were before?

We have launched certain studies on this subject, but it is very difficult to measure this kind of data. Indeed, people do not have microchips implanted. Nor can we keep track of them, as they are not obliged to register. The only useful data we have relates to applicants for doctorates, who come to study in Europe. We know, for example, that Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden are net importers, which means that there are more Indian or Chinese researchers coming in to these countries than there are German, British or Swedish researchers who leave.

What are your plans for the coming months?

Our initial aim is to let people know that international cooperation is, as of now, fully integrated within the framework programme as a whole. Everyone must be informed of this, especially European researchers, as that is the main problem. People do not yet know that the Seventh Framework Programme is putting forward an international dimension that is completely different from previous framework programmes and that universities, research institutes and even SMEs have an opportunity to participate in projects of an international nature. International cooperation that is more extensive, more integrated, more targeted, more structured and more organised; that is the message that we have to get across.


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