EU, Israel begin talks over participation in Horizon 2020

Foreign Ministry official says Jerusalem won’t join program unless settlement guideline issues are resolved.

Netanyahu and Ashton looking sullen 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool )
Netanyahu and Ashton looking sullen 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool )
If “positive understandings” with the EU regarding implementation of settlement guidelines cannot be reached, Israel will not join the Horizon 2020 R&D program, a Foreign Ministry official said on Wednesday at the opening of talks on the issue.
At the beginning, in Tel Aviv, of the first EU-Israel meeting to discuss Israel’s participation in the lucrative project, Foreign Minister deputy director-general for economic affairs Irit Ben-Abba – who led the Israeli delegation at the talks – made it clear that Israel took a grave view of the new EU guidelines, which prohibit funding to Israel entities in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
“Israel expressed its hope that a way to reach positive understandings on the guidelines’ implementation will be found, so as to enable Israel to participate in Horizon 2020,” the Foreign Ministry said. “It was emphasized that, should such understandings not be reached, Israel will be unable to join the European R&D program.”
One ministry official, however, said that if a conversation on the matter on Friday night between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was any indication, there was no guarantee that an agreement could be found.
The official said that the conversation was “very difficult,” and that Ashton did not acknowledge that there was a problem with the guidelines, saying instead that she received plaudits from various European foreign ministers for drawing them up.
“They are not convinced there is a problem,” the official said.
The guidelines call, among other elements, for Israel to sign a “territorial clause” before entering into any new agreements with the EU that would say that the agreement is inapplicable in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or the West Bank. Israel interprets this as an attempt by the EU to get Israel to sign a waiver of claims to these areas before being able to enter agreements with the EU.
According to the Foreign Ministry, Wednesday’s discussions in Tel Aviv with senior officials from the EU’s directorate- general for Research and Innovation focused on drafting a memorandum of understanding that will detail the rules and procedures governing Israel’s participation in the program, including the financial aspects.
Israel is expected to invest some 600 million euros over the next seven years in the flagship EU research and development program, and get back in inbound grants and investments some 900m. euros. Israel has taken part in the major EU R&D project since 1996.
The EU issued a release following the talks saying that the negotiations were limited to “exploratory talks on technical and financial aspects” of the program. Discussions on the “territorial scope of the future memorandum” and the application of the settlement guidelines will start, the statement said, during the second round of negotiations to take place in Brussels in September.
Israel Radio, meanwhile, reported that Ruth Arnon, the president of the Israel Academy of Sciences, wrote a letter to Netanyahu warning that giving up on Israel’s participation in the program would be an “irreversible step” that would damage Israel’s scientific capabilities.
Arnon wrote, according to the report, that while it was possible to find a substitute to the money expected to come into Israel as a result of its participation in the program, there is no substitute to Israeli universities and industry cooperating with the EU. Arnon wrote that Israel receives more research grants per capita from the EU than any other country.