Speech - An innovative partnership – EU-US research cooperation

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Thursday, October 2 2014.

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

An innovative partnership - EU-US research cooperation

Presentation of the Transatlantic Leadership Awards

Washington, 2 October 2014

First of all, my thanks to you, Madame Grapin, for your kind remarks.

I would like to return your compliments and acknowledge your personal support to the EU-US partnership.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be back at the European Institute, and am deeply honoured to receive this award.

I would like to congratulate the European Institute on its important work in advancing the EU-US relationship, and particularly for the prominence you give to this important relationship's research and innovation dimension.

The cooperation between Jacqueline Grapin, Joëlle Attinger and their staff with the European Union Delegation here in Washington, has been outstanding.

I would also like to acknowledge the positive relationships we have had with the relevant State Department bureaux under the leadership of Robert Hormats and his successor, Cathy Novelli, with whom I have already had very productive discussions. These key relationships have flourished over the last five years, and this is especially true for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

While I am honoured to accept this Transatlantic Leadership Award personally, I am keen to point out that the award also recognises the work of many people on both sides of the Atlantic in the area of research, innovation and science. I would like to express my gratitude on their behalf as well.

The annual Ambassadors' Dinner is a celebration of the strength of the trans-Atlantic bond; the strength of our shared values and interests, and our common endeavours in pursuit of peace, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law.

Our relationship in science, technology, research and innovation is very much a part of this fabric.

The EU - like the US - wants to provide high quality, well-paid jobs for its citizens. We want to raise the standards of living and quality of life for everyone.

We also want to support the development of our neighbours, since peace, prosperity and open societies are good for all of us at a global level.

Among its own policy priorities, the European Union is investing in science, technology, research and innovation, to increase its competitiveness, to create growth and jobs and to address global challenges.

Worth nearly 80 billion euro - well over 100 billion dollars - between now and 2020, the Horizon 2020 programme which I launched at the end of last year, is at the heart of European economic strategy. While most areas of expenditure have been cut, Horizon 2020 is the only major budgetary area to see a significant increase in funding, agreed by the Heads of State and Government of the 28 EU Member States. This is a strong signal at political and economic level - showing that research, innovation and science are key to the EU's future prosperity and competitiveness on the world stage.

And Horizon 2020 is outward-looking. Europe fully recognises that international cooperation will be vital in achieving our goals. That is why Horizon 2020 is open to all our international partners.

By its very nature, science is globalising. Many challenges, such as health and ageing, energy security or transportation - are not unique to any one part of the world - they affect us all. And while many other challenges can seem more local or regional, they cross boundaries and have widespread impacts - like the effects of climate change, environmental problems or infectious diseases for example.

We need more international cooperation to address these challenges and to deliver results for people in the EU, the US and worldwide.

Cooperation with the US is a particular priority for the EU, as the potential to work for mutual benefit in the key enabling technologies and to address major global challenges is especially strong.

Indeed, at the EU-US summit last March in Brussels, Presidents Obama, Barroso and Van Rompuy agreed a joint statement making a strong case for an expansion of cooperation in research, innovation and emerging technologies.

While the European Union and the United States still account for 50% of global science funding, this proportion is shrinking. Our global share of knowledge creation is dwindling, and this has consequences for our competitiveness on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are no two partners in the world better suited to collaboration. We share many of the same values and concerns, and with tighter fiscal constraints everywhere, it makes sense to pool resources in areas of common interest in order to increase the impact of research, set standards, promote breakthroughs, and boost our ability to compete on world markets.

We also will need mutual understanding for the conduct of science; in this respect there is much common ground between the EU and US when it comes to important areas like merit review, ethics, integrity and open access.

By working together we can encourage higher global standards. The work of the Global Research Council, which was established with the leadership of the National Science Foundation, could be important in this sphere.

It is for these reasons that the EU-US partnership has always been high among my priorities, and why I am so pleased to receive this award.

You may ask why I think this particular partnership is so important.

For many years now, cooperation between European and US scientists and innovators has been rich, deep and diverse. It goes back as far as the birth of the US - at the levels of individuals, companies, governments and international organisations.

Major scientific discoveries are littered with such examples: The great minds of Watson from Chicago and Crick from Northampton in the UK, came together to reveal to the world the structure of DNA - a game changer for modern medicine. CERN is another excellent example, where talented Europeans, joined by the best American and other international minds, grapple with our fundamental understanding of the universe itself. When I visited CERN, I was blown away by the talent of those I met and the ambition of their work.

The framework of scientific cooperation between the EU and the US is provided by our Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement. In existence since 1998, this accord has been renewed several times, and has provided an umbrella for much of our joint work. We use it to define our joint priorities and our cooperation has certainly flourished since its inception.

In the predecessor to Horizon 2020 - the 7th Framework Programme - the US ranked first among non-European countries in the number of applications, and has always vied for first place [with Russia] in terms of actual participation.

Well over 40% of non-European recipients of the highly prestigious European Research Council grants are American. Also, in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie mobility and training actions, the strongest exchanges of researchers beyond Europe were with the US.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the US as a partner for the future in Horizon 2020.

In 2014-15 alone, almost 400 million euro, or more than 500 million dollars in funding, is dedicated to calls for proposals in topics specifically encouraging cooperation with US researchers. These include areas such as marine research in the Atlantic and Arctic, as well as health, transport, materials, information and communication technologies, energy and security research.

The 2013 Galway Declaration on Atlantic Ocean cooperation is one achievement of which I am particularly proud. This signals a high level political commitment to joint research, implementing and giving life to a Trans-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance, and I'm delighted to say that real, practical progress is being made already.

EU, US and Canadian research communities are jointly developing a scientific plan for the North Atlantic and the Arctic. With the support of the European Commission and US Government agencies such as the NSF, NOAA and NASA, this will lead to advances in knowledge, better stewardship of the oceans, more effective and sustainable use of vital resources, and well paid, skilled jobs.

On Monday of this week I addressed the World Ocean Council Business Forum in New York, where I saw real excitement among the business community as it begins to engage in a meaningful way in ocean planning and stewardship efforts; efforts that will boost future ocean economic activity and prospects for sustainable development.

Another important area is health research, where we have routinely funded US participants in EU-level programmes since 2007. Health is our single most prolific area of collaboration. The EU-US component is also strong within many international health initiatives in the areas of genomics and infectious, chronic and rare diseases for example. And we see great potential for joint activities in vaccine development, traumatic brain injury and the neurosciences.

Before saying more about my hopes for the future of EU-US partnership, I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge some of those who have contributed to the success of our relationship in science, technology and innovation.

In my time as Commissioner, I have encountered tremendous goodwill and powerful and steadfast support for trans-Atlantic cooperation both here and back in Brussels. There are many individuals I could single out but sadly I cannot name them all. These great Americans include:

  • Leaders of US Government departments and agencies that fund science and many inspiring entrepreneurs, CEOs and academics;
  • In the political realm, as well as Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, I would like to acknowledge Bart Gordon as former Chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Another individual I must single out is Dr Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science - we have worked closely together in the context of the Carnegie Group, and have become firm friends over the last five years. There are others I should mention, but cannot do so for lack of time.

Working with such inspirational leaders, I have no doubt that my successor, Mr Carlos Moedas, will continue to develop the trans-Atlantic alliance in research and innovation.

And looking to the future - well, I believe that we have solid foundations upon which to build an even stronger partnership, leading to potentially enormous rewards. This can happen if we work together towards more strategic cooperation, increasing the scale and scope of our common efforts;

We need more funding commitments from US government agencies, to fund your researchers and innovators so they can work alongside ours in areas of jointly agreed priorities.

The US will get the most out of the Horizon 2020 programme if there are strong US Points of Contact. These are individuals who know Horizon 2020 well, and can guide US-based researchers to the opportunities available, and help them link up with potential European partners. I hear positive signals about capacity-building here, and hope a robust team of Points of Contact will be built up.

Of course EU-US cooperation in all areas of civil research and innovation is welcome and possible. Those that stand out for me among the most promising include Atlantic and Arctic research which I have already mentioned, as well as Neurosciences and other health issues. The EU Human Brain Project and the US BRAIN initiative have clear scope for complementary contributions to the vital task of understanding the brain and its diseases. Other health issues beckon, such as infectious diseases and working together in developing countries to tackle poverty-related diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

  • Climate change and the environment are perhaps the challenge of our times, on which high level talks took place in New York only a week ago.
  • Another 'hot' topic, if you'll forgive the pun, is energy, where we have longstanding cooperation, including in the area of renewable energy technologies needed for future energy security and to limit the adverse effects of climate change. Such work is undertaken within the EU-US Energy Council, which has an important research and innovation component. We would like to see more intense and high-impact cooperation here.
  • Equally topical is the area of Trade. We are all interested in ensuring that our regulators make use of the best scientific evidence when they design rules. TTIP will aim at improving the way our regulators work together. This will mean that a regulator on one side of the Atlantic will be better able to make full use of the data, research and findings collected by the regulator on the other side. That will increase the impact of science - informing decision-making and ensuring safer foods and medicines and better quality goods and services.
  • And we have common interests in the field of development, including cooperation in capacity-building for science, technology and innovation with less developed countries who are our partners in knowledge generation, trade and global stewardship.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by expressing again how pleased and honoured I am to receive this award.

Together, we have already achieved a lot. But we are only at the beginning of an exciting journey - many opportunities remain to be seized. Progress will be important for the sake of our young people who are seeking meaningful and rewarding jobs, for our economies and for our quality of life.

Over the last few years, it has been my privilege to meet some remarkable American scientists, thinkers and innovators who combine ambition with determination, and who have personally inspired me.

Like the young cancer researcher, Jack Andraka, who is still only 17! Earlier this year in Brussels, Jack joined me and a group of young European innovators, including the Irish winners of the top prize at the last week's Google Science Fair in California, for a fascinating discussion. They got on immediately and sparked off each other's creativity - I believe they remain friends on social media. I can tell you, we have a lot to learn from visionary young people like them and I'm sure they will go on to collaborate across the Atlantic in the not-too-distant future.

And Bill Gates, the very definition of an inventor and entrepreneur, whose foundation is working with EU funders in the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership to tackle poverty related diseases like HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis;

And of course the astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mae Jemison, who have literally and metaphorically reached for the stars.

By building on our scientific friendship, we can too!

Thank you.