Israel was chosen as the first neighboring country to join the â‚¬36 billion Competitiveness and Innovation Program under which the European Commission promotes innovation, entrepreneurship and growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises. "Competitiveness and innovation are joint challenges for Israel and the EU. There are many areas of entrepreneurship and innovation policy in which Israel and the EU have a lot to offer and where cooperation in joint projects and business and innovation networks will create a win-win situation. In today's world, the key to success is not isolation but cooperation," Gunter Verheugen, European Commission vice president responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said at the Prime Minister's Conference for Export and International Cooperation. The Memorandum of Understanding on the CIP was signed on Thursday by Verheugen and the Deputy Prime Minister and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister, Eli Yishai, at the conference. Through the CIP, Israel can cooperate with all 27 member States of the European Union, as well as with other third countries joining the CIP, on a whole host of projects and schemes on competitiveness and innovation. The CIP Program runs from 2007 to 2013 with a budget of â‚¬3.6b. Meanwhile, as part of the joined efforts to boost economic cooperation between the EU and Israel, the Israel-EU business forum was officially launched at the conference. "The aim of the forum is to make sure that business from Israel can move freely into the European market. The dialogue shall also encourage European companies to do more business with Israel," said Verheugen. "Israel is strong with a booming economy and spreading confidence in investment in Israel is something, which will help overcome political tensions often seen as an obstacle for foreign investors." The Israel-EU business forum's first-year goal will be to establish a direct business dialogue focusing on a number of sectors including banking and finance, energy and environmental technology, telecommunications, media and Internet, transport and tourism. The Israeli side of the forum will be headed by hi-tech guru Dr. Yossi Vardi. Its nine members will include Eli Hurvitz of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.; Galia Maor, CEO of Bank Leumi; Dov Lautman of Delta Textile Industries; Micky Federman of the Dan Hotel Group; and Yehuda Bronitzky from Ormat Technologies. The EU side will be chaired by Dr. Matthias Doepfner, CEO of the Axel-Springer media empire and include senior representatives of Alcatel, Lucent Technologies, Deutsche Telekom and the Saban Capital Group. "Israel has no oil but brains," Doepfner said, adding that at the first meeting of the forum a number of ideas were discussed including a Middle East bank and the creation a special insurance concept for investment.