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Crossing continents to protect livelihoods in Europe and beyond

The Framework Programmes have helped finance research collaborations with developing countries in Africa to focus on agriculture and infectious diseases. Image: Guy Stubbs
The Framework Programmes have helped finance research collaborations with developing countries in Africa to focus on agriculture and infectious diseases. Image: Guy Stubbs

Research collaboration spanning Europe and the Mediterranean region has generated crucial understanding of the changing Mediterranean ecosystem, helping to protect communities which rely on fishing and tourism.

It’s the kind of progress that was only made possible by a European drive to develop research collaboration focused on specific regions of the world.

The European Union has been collaborating thematically with non-member countries since the early 1980s. In addition to collaboration in health, environment and agriculture through the specific programme Science and Technology for Development, in 1984 the EU started bilateral international scientific cooperation actions with countries in Latin America, in Asia and in the Mediterranean region.

The EU followed this up in 1993 with the largest of its research projects at this time, the Mediterranean Targeted Project initiative, under the Marine Science and Technology programme (MAST).

‘For the first time, researchers from different disciplines accustomed to working on specific sites in the east and west Mediterranean basin linked their studies,’ said Dr Elisabeth Lipiatou, who now heads the European Neighbourhood, Africa and the Gulf unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

The results of observations and modelling were the subject of a vast multidisciplinary debate bringing together around 200 scientists from 70 institutions in 14 European countries, plus Morocco and Tunisia. Important findings included evidence of climate change in the deep waters of the eastern Mediterranean, and new understanding of how this ecosystem works. These led to new opportunities for climate modelling and coastal management.

‘This had important implications for many people throughout the region,’ Dr Lipiatou said.

Collaborative research initiatives such as AVICENNE, which was launched in 1992 to explore the potential for collaboration across the Mediterranean, accompanied the evolution of technology in the early 1990s.

Euro-Mediterranean collaboration marks the most developed example of inter-regionalcooperation in science and technology.

Other Euro-Mediterranean projects have included topics such as the impact of climate change, the effect of lead pollution from vehicle emissions on sea life, and the consequences of excess fertilizers and effluent for the marine environment.

‘Over and above the important scientific outcomes, the Framework Programmes have helped to create a community of scientists and a regional conscience for the Mediterranean region in science, technology and innovation,’ Dr Lipiatou said.

‘With the movement of people in the world these days and with the movements of diseases, there are no borders.’

Dr Aldo Tagliabue, researcher from ALTA, Italy

Global Challenges

With the Fourth Framework Programme in 1994, the Science and Technology for Development and International Scientific Cooperation schemes were integrated into the specific programme ‘International Cooperation’. While the emphasis has evolved with geopolitical changes and European priorities, international cooperation has been a feature of the Framework Programmes ever since.

As well as specific international cooperation activities, all parts of the Framework Programmes have been open to teams from non-EU countries since 2002.

The fields of cooperation can vary according to the different groups of countries: developing countries, those in the neighbourhood, such as the Mediterranean countries, and Eastern European states, emerging economies, and industrialised countries such as the US and Japan.

However, cooperation is always based on the principles of mutual benefit and common interest.

Industrial countries, for instance, have been involved in research projects in genome sequencing and climate change. In working with developing countries in Africa, the Framework Programmes have given strong support to research on agriculture and infectious diseases, with particular backing for actions to find newtreatments and vaccines for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, such as the European Malaria Vaccine Initiative (EMVI).

‘With the movement of people in the world these days and with the movements of diseases, there are no borders,’ said Dr Aldo Tagliabue, a researcher who has been working on immunology,biotechnology and vaccines over a number of decades. His company, ALTA, based in Italy, manages Framework Programme projects with partners ranging from Europe to South Africa, China, the US and Brazil.

‘Certainly in human health, you have to take that into account and you have to work like that too,’ he said.

International cooperation remains a special feature of the strategic approach embraced in Horizon 2020, providing for bilateral as well as regional and multilateral cooperation with partners such as the southern Mediterranean countries, where the research and innovation partnership has gained new momentum despite upheavals in the region in recent years.