Jerusalem and EU agree on formula that allows Israel to join Horizon 2020 project

Sides agree on compromise by which Israel can participate in lucrative R&D project despite EU settlement guidelines.

By
November 26, 2013 20:14
4 minute read.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, June 20, 2013.

Netanyahu and Ashton looking sullen 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool )

 
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Israel and the European Union found a way on Tuesday to agree to disagree while continuing to cooperate, reaching an understanding making Israel’s participation in the EU’s flagship R&D program Horizon 2020 possible.

Israeli officials said a compromise was found regarding the settlement guidelines issue, whereby both sides could keep their positions but continue to work together on the 80 billion euro science and innovation program.

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According to the compromise, Israel would write explicitly in an appendix to the agreement that it does not accept the guidelines, while the EU will write that the guidelines reflect European policy.

The guidelines, published in July, stipulate that no EU grants, prizes or financial instruments, such as loans, could go to Israeli entities operating outside the Green Line, including in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The issue of loans to Israeli entities inside the Green Line that do have operations in the territories is to be finessed so that the EU can ensure that the funds do not find their way into the settlements.

Once the final language of the compromise is worked out, it will be brought to Jerusalem and Brussels for final approval. The first tenders for participation in Horizon 2020 are to be issued on December 10.

The compromise agreement came after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided at an urgent meeting Sunday evening that a way needed to be found to enable Israel’s participation in the program, and directed Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to do so.

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Government officials said that although Netanyahu made clear he wanted a deal, he also made clear that it could not be at any price.

One official said that the moment he charged Livni with this task, instead of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman or Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin – both of whom opposed in principle what they viewed as a European attempt to use an economic agreement to impose their political polices on Israel – it was clear a deal would be reached.

During a day of marathon phone conversations, Livni spoke with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, while Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with her deputy Pierre Vimont.

While Netanyahu was under pressure from the country’s academic and research community to find a way to join the project, Ashton had also come under pressure from some leaders in various European capitals urging her to find a way to enable Israel’s participation.

“Both sides benefit from this,” one Israeli official said. “It is good for both of us that this compromise proposal was reached, and we are happy this is behind us and common sense prevailed.”

Just a few hours before the compromise was agreed upon, Bennett told Israel Radio that people who want to invest in Israel have the right to decide where they want – and do not want – to put their money.

What they do not have the right to do, Bennett said, was impose their political positions in the process.

Negotiations over this issue started in August, and from the beginning it was clear to both sides that the EU was not going to disavow the settlement guidelines – a written concretization of what has basically been EU policy for years – and that Israel would not sign a clause saying that territories that came under its administration in June 1967 were not part of Israeli territory.

To do so, Israeli officials argued, would be essentially to forgo any future claims on those territories.

Even before Tuesday, the EU – in an effort to make the settlement guidelines less visible in the Horizon 2020 agreement – showed flexibility and agreed that entities applying for grants would not have to sign a declaration that the money was not for operations beyond the Green Line, but rather merely click a box saying that they abide by all the stipulations of the agreement.

One Israeli official said the guidelines will mean that Ariel University will not be eligible for EU grant money, and that the government will now have to find a way to compensate it, since it will be at an unfair disadvantage vis-à-vis the other universities eligible for EU funds.

Israel is the only non-EU country to have been asked to join Horizon 2020 as a full partner, and is expected to pay some 600 million euros over the next seven years to take part. This is considered a worthwhile investment, however, because for every shekel contributed, it is expected to get back 150 percent in research funds and other inbound investments.

As question marks were raised over the last few days over whether a resolution would be found to the issue, leading Israeli academics called on the government to ensure – for the sake of Israeli R&D – that Israel takes part.

Prof. Ruth Arnon, the president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities, characterized Israel’s participation in the program as “absolutely essential to the future of science in Israel.”

Failing to sign the agreement, she added, would be an “irreversible disaster.”

And Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, said Israeli participation was of “crucial importance.”

“In light of the global world we live in and the quality of Israeli researchers, it is very important to develop and maintain our relationship with the academic, scientific and research community in the world,” he said.

Danielle Ziri contributed to this report.

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