Israel has officially joined the Seventh Research Framework Program (FP7) of the European Union, allowing its scientists to fully cooperate in numerous research projects and use advanced European facilities. Science and Technology Minister Ghaleb Majadle signed the agreement in Brussels Monday on Israel's behalf. During the next seven years, Israel is expected to contribute some â‚¬440 million to the overall FP7 budget, which is over â‚¬50 billion. With this agreement, Israeli researchers can participate in all calls for proposals under FP7 on an equal footing with researchers from the EU's member states. The EU is now Israel's second-largest source of research funding (after the Israel Science Foundation). Majadle said before his departure that Israel regarded scientific cooperation with the EU as very important, especially at a time when there were voices in Europe trying to isolate Israel with an academic boycott. "The signing of the agreement establishes scientific research and development as a bridge that crosses borders and nationalities," he added. Prof. Jose Mariano Gago, who is Portugal's minister of science, technology and higher education, signed the agreement on behalf of the EU and Portugal, which is its current president, along with Dr. Janez Potocnik, the European commissioner for science and research. Israel's Science and Technology Ministry negotiated with the EU for a year over the agreement, which will give Israeli scientists from academia and industry full access to and participation in European scientific research over the next seven years. It will also enable them to use unique EU centers and other facilities and participate in joint research with their European counterparts. Of the total â‚¬50b. EU budget for the program through 2013, academic and industrial research institutions will be able to share directly in grants worth â‚¬700m. Majadle also signed a declaration on Sunday with Croatia's minister of science, education and sport, Prof. Dragan Primorac, to advance scientific cooperation between the two countries. The two ministers aim to set up a joint Israeli-Croatian committee that will delineate before the end of this year the fields in which their scientists will join forces in 2008. "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," said Potecnik at the Brussels signing ceremony. "Today's signature together with that of the other associating instruments with the EEA/EFTA States, the Enlargement Countries and Switzerland signifies the creation of a truly enlarged European Research Area which will allow scientists, universities and companies from 36 countries to conduct ambitious joint research projects over the next seven years." The FP7 is one of the biggest EU programs, allowing for the funding of collaborative research in strategic areas such as health, energy, information technologies, nanotechnology and transport. FP7 also stimulates the mobility of researchers through Marie-Curie grants. A new feature that will be open to Israeli scientists is the European Research Council, which will fund the best new ideas emerging from Europe's scientific community, regardless of thematic area and without the requirement for multinational partnerships. Israel is expected to play a crucial role in the program. For example, it will be the only country outside of the EU associated with the "Clean Sky" initiative, the major new public/private partnership proposed last month to radically improve the impact of air transport on the environment, with the goal of eliminating environmental pollution by reducing greenhouse gases. Israel will take part in this project through the Israel Aerospace Industries. Between 2002 and 2006, Israel was part of the Sixth Research Framework Program and has over that time constantly increased its participation and success rate. Under FP6, Israeli research bodies participated in over 600 research projects in consortia with their European counterparts. Israeli institutes of higher learning have been particularly strong participants, comprising more than half of all Israeli participants, followed by Israeli industry with 20% of participants.