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The European Union and Israel have agreed to renew their science and technological cooperation, giving Israeli researchers, universities and companies full access to the EU's Seventh Research Framework Program (FP7).
Under the agreement reached last month, Israel is set to contribute over â‚¬440 million to the â‚¬50 billion budget of the new framework program. The association will then enable Israeli researchers to participate in FP7 and receive funding on an equal footing with researchers from EU's Member States. Representatives of Israel will also have the opportunity to participate as observers in FP7 implementing committees and bodies.
The agreement was signed by EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik, Portuguese Science, Technology and Higher Education Minister Jose Mariano Gago while Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadele signed for Israel.
The agreement makes the European Union Israel's second largest source of research funding after the Israel Science Foundation. Israel expects to play a key role in FP7. An example of its research involvement is the 'Clean Sky' Joint Technology Initiative. Israel is currently the only nation outside of the EU to participate in the initiative.
"Israel's association to the Framework Program has proved to be of mutual benefit for both sides over the last couple of years. Whereas the European Research Area will benefit from the renowned excellence of the Israeli research community, Israel will gain full access to the biggest research program in the world," Potocnik said during the signing ceremony in Brussels.
According to Adv. Meny Broid, partner at Glusman Chowers Broid and a lawyer specializing in handling the legal aspects of the participation of Israeli academic institutions and corporations in the European framework programs: "The European framework programs are very attractive to Israeli participants because they enable the obtaining of significant amounts of non-refundable grants, as well as the establishing of strategic cooperations and alliances with European multi-nationals and important academic institutions in a natural and day-to-day manner. On the other hand, it is important to note that the participation in such programs is conditioned upon the acceptance of certain rules prescribed by the European Commission with respect to intellectual property rights."
Framework programs (FPs) have been the main financial tools through which the European Union supports research and development activities covering almost all scientific disciplines. FPs are proposed by the European Commission and adopted by Council and the European Parliament following a co-decision procedure (view the FP7 approval process). FPs have been implemented since 1984 and cover a period of five years with the last year of one FP and the first year of the following FP overlapping. The current FP is FP6, which runs until the end of 2007.
Officials in the EU like to say that knowledge lies at the heart of the European Union's Lisbon Strategy to become the "most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world." The broad objectives of FP7 have been grouped into four categories: Cooperation, Ideas, People and Capacities. For each type of objective, there is a specific program corresponding to the main areas of EU research policy. All specific programs work together to promote and encourage the creation of European poles of (scientific) excellence.
The "knowledge triangle" - research, education and innovation - is said to be a core factor in European efforts to meet the ambitious Lisbon goals. Hence, the FP7 is supposed to bundle all research-related EU initiatives together under a common roof playing a crucial role in reaching the goals of growth, competitiveness and employment, along with a new Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Program (CIP), Education and Training programs and Structural and Cohesion Funds for regional convergence and competitiveness.
Israel performed well under FP6. Israeli research bodies participated in over 600 research projects in consortia with European counterparts, including many in the fields of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the life sciences.
While building on the achievements of its predecessor, the FP7 is hoped to be "not just another Framework Program." In its content, organization, implementation modes and management tools, it is designed as a key contribution to the re-launched Lisbon strategy. The new elements in FP7 include emphasis on research themes rather than on "instruments," significant simplification of its operation, development of Regions of Knowledge, a risk-sharing finance facility aimed at fostering private investment in research, and more.
How will FP7 benefit Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)? To start, FP7 has made it easier for SMEs to participate in all aspects of research and development. The funding rates have increased, the rules and procedures have been simplified, and access to information has been increased. FP7 encourages SMEs to work in collaboration with each other not only within a region, but internationally as well, creating new networking opportunities and increasing the knowledge pool from which the participants can utilize. In general, the risks have been reduced for SME participation and the gains have been increased.
ISERD, the Israeli Directorate for EU Framework Program, operating through the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, is Israel's official in FP (NCP) with the EU, for all the activities of FP7. ISERD aims at promoting joint Israeli-EU R&D ventures within the EU's R&D Framework Program. At the level of the EU, the Framework Program is the main instrument for research funding in Europe, bringing together industries and academic research.
For more information please contact the author of this article or see ISERD Web site at http://www.iserd.org.il.
The author is head of the International Department at the Joseph Shem-Tov Law firm.