Jordan has become the latest country to sign up to an international research effort to tackle water scarcity and food insecurity in the Mediterranean region.
The agreement was signed in a ceremony at the World Science Forum in Jordan on 10 November. Once it is ratified by Jordan and the EU, the country will join a list of partners including Israel, Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey, who have agreed to work together to develop ways to meet the growing challenges of climate change, population growth and urbanisation in the region.
Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, who attended the EU-Jordan signing ceremony, called the initiative ‘the most ambitious joint research and innovation programme ever to be undertaken by countries across the Mediterranean.’
The 10-year partnership for research and innovation in the Mediterranean area, known as PRIMA and due to start in 2018, will develop scientific research into water and sustainable food production, topics of pressing concern to the countries of the Mediterranean region.
It will be financed with funding of EUR 274 million from the participant countries, backed by EUR 220 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding programme.
In a keynote speech on the final day of the World Science Forum, the theme of which was science for peace, Commissioner Moedas said that initiatives like PRIMA show that sometimes science can be the best tool for diplomacy.
While the broader Middle East region is rife with conflicting political viewpoints, he pointed out that there is common ground in scientific research, and nations that open up to science and innovation can progress their own wellbeing.
'This message of international cooperation is powerful,' he said.
Commissioner Moedas said the extent to which scientific cooperation can overcome political tensions is illustrated by an iconic photograph from 1975, depicting Soviet and US astronauts greeting each other in space despite the severe Cold War tensions between the two countries.
'The two men are floating in zero gravity, reaching across a hatch from an American spaceship to a Russian one, grasping their hands and turning their faces to smile at the camera,' he said.
Overcoming the technical challenges of forming a rendezvous in space between two incompatible spacecraft required a great deal of cooperation between the scientists and engineers of both countries.
Even at the lowest point of their political relationships, Soviet and American scientists found grounds to work together, and this is because science is the universal language, said the Commissioner.
'It does not care about capitalism, or communism. Or religious creed. Science does not take sides. But it can improve the lives of many, no matter what they believe,' he said.
The Middle East already has an example of scientific cooperation helping open channels of communication between political rivals in SESAME, a high-energy physics research centre hosted in Jordan with partners including Israel, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.
SESAME, which is funded partly by the EU, creates benefits beyond scientific achievements, according to Commissioner Moedas, who said of the endeavour: ‘That generates mutual respect and admiration. That moves people's hearts, as well as their minds.’
‘Science does not take sides. But it can improve the lives of many, no matter what they believe.’
Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
However, he made the point that while scientific research keeps the door open to positive dialogue, developing an open research system also means the science gets better.
‘I would go further than this,’ said Commissioner Moedas. ‘International science is also the best thing for our world.’
On 27 October, the European Commission announced that they would spend more than EUR 1 billion over the next three years on 30 flagship initiatives that promote international cooperation in areas of mutual benefit.
These will include working with Canada on personalised medicine, Africa on sustainable agriculture, and Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan on 5G technology.
There are also plans to cooperate with Russia on research infrastructures, a development that comes despite political tensions. ‘Russia is still a welcome partner in Horizon 2020,’ said Commissioner Moedas, as joint research on areas of mutual concern continues to enable a ‘precious link through the common language and ideals of science.’
He said that the successor funding programme to Horizon 2020 should also support open science by enabling mobility for scientists, collaborating with non-EU partners and doing more to address global challenges.
If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.
Heavy-hitting institutional investors will soon have their chance to back European technology innovation, according to fund managers involved in Europe’s new €410 million venture capital fund of funds.
The structure of the EU’s next research funding programme is based on the mantra of ‘evolution, not revolution’ and so will not contain any major surprises, according to Jean-Eric Paquet, the EU’s recently appointed director-general for research and innovation, who takes up his new role on 3 April.
Tiny pieces of plastic, now ubiquitous in the marine environment, have long been a cause of concern for their ability to absorb toxic substances and potentially penetrate the food chain. Now scientists are beginning to understand the level of threat posed to life, by gauging the extent of marine accumulation and tracking the movement of these contaminants.
The world’s largest radio telescope, known as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and situated over two continents, will be able to detect the first stars and galaxies emerging from the ‘murk’ at the beginning of the universe and much more besides, according to Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of SKA. He spoke to Horizon at the opening of the Shared Sky art exhibition in Brussels, Belgium on 16 April, where indigenous artists from SKA host nations South Africa and Australia use traditional painting and folk art to explore the themes of astronomy, spirituality and a borderless sky.
Tiny plastic particles could impact human health.
Astronomers could use giant radio telescope from 2025.
The EU’s research chief on his new role.