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.
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