FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Science and Technology Landscape in a Changing World Enhancing Collaboration with the EU and its Member States

Aline D. McNaull
Number 155 - December 23, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Delegation of the European Union to the United States led a conference in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science on enhancing collaboration between the US, the EU and its Member States. 

At the December 12, 2011 conference, ambassadors, professors, and directors of science-related organizations met to highlight the need to strengthen and shape the strategies for collaboration, assess existing collaboration efforts, and identify opportunities for future transatlantic collaboration in science and technology.

The European Commission and EU Member States have launched a joint effort to promote and stimulate transatlantic collaboration in science, technology and innovation.  The conference provided information for the EU and Member States on their Pilot Initiative USA, which will be developed within the framework of the Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation (SFIC).  Also, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal for a new EU Research and Innovation Program – Horizon 2020.  

Many collaborative efforts between the US and EU were highlighted, including:  the EU-USA Transatlantic Council, the cross-Atlantic Science and Technology Agreement, the Energy Council, Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), the Coulomb Program, Homing Plus Program, Parent-Bridge program, Link2US, and Bilat-USA.  Knowledge networks between Portugal and MIT, the University of Texas at Austin, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvard Medical School were presented as examples of international university-government partnerships.  Notable international projects such as the Decade of the Mind, the International Cancer Genome Consortium, and the Human Genome Project were presented as excellent examples of large international scientific efforts.  The 7th Framework Program was discussed as it emphasizes international cooperation while supporting a wide range of private companies, public organizations, and researchers. 

Many of the speakers emphasized policy concerns that often hinder scientists’ research.  They also contended that while each of these programs was said to bring together the international science community to tackle challenges and to reach new levels of understanding, they also help to define and address policy and logistical hurdles faced by scientists.  The challenges in science are too complex to be solved by one nation or one lab.  Fostering collaboration while working towards specific research goals leaves room for bottoms-up innovation and greater scientific advancement. 

Among other points made were that international science programs allow nations to share their science infrastructure so that expensive experiments do not need to be repeated by each nation involved.  Allowing scientists to share their materials and equipment is an important aspect of many partnerships.  Smaller nations or institutions can build on research developed by larger institutions, therefore increasing their capacity and their contributions to research.

The issue of grant mobility was discussed as a global concern for scientists.  Regulations allowing a scientist to carry a grant with him or her when he/she changes institutions or research centers are critical to the continuation of the research associated with the grant.  Many speakers mentioned that without these regulations allowing for scientific grant mobility, research projects are often discontinued. 

There was much consensus on the need for uniform funding mechanisms as well as consistent international regulations regarding clinical and ethics rules and standard laboratory procedures.  Edward Trimble of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health pointed out that scientists in Europe and the US have been forced to repeat trials and have not recognized the work of other scientists due to discrepancies in regulations which exist in one country but not in another.  There was uniform consensus among the panelists that working around these regulatory differences is a huge burden for researchers and causes many road blocks to the scientific process.

Many speakers remarked on problems with intellectual property (IP) which exist in rapidly developing economies such as China and India.  They stressed the importance of respecting the intellectual developments of each country and promoted the idea that scientists should abide by one consistent set of international IP laws.

Welcoming new economies on the world stage is an important step to furthering scientific developments and the speakers remarked that there is a need for a transparent peer review system in order to provide these developing economies with the same chance for funding as any other country. Sujai Shivakumar, of the National Academies, remarked that the US and Europe need to work together to ensure that attention is given to the composition of the developing economies.  This would thus ensure that industry surges are balanced to allow scientific developments in many high-tech industries rather than favoring one industry. 

The collaboration efforts described in the conference allow for the exchange of scientific ideas between researchers but also enhance international learning opportunities and provide a forum for addressing science policy issues.  Scientists involved in international partnership programs have the opportunity to discuss scientific problems as well as regulatory, administrative, and legal problems which hinder their work.  This conference shed light on these issues and highlighted the benefits of international collaboration. 

More information on this conference is available here.   

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics