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Tackling global challenges: EU-Canada research cooperation

European Commission

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Máire GEOGHEGAN-QUINN

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Tackling global challenges: EU-Canada research cooperation

Speech at the Canada Public Policy Forum

Ottawa, 10 September 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the chance to address you today.

I am enjoying my visit to Canada very much. It’s very satisfying to meet so many people on this side of the Atlantic who share my desire to get more Canadian and European scientists to work together.

In Montreal, I met Christine St-Pierre, the Québec Minister of International Relations and senior representatives of the Québec Ministry of the Economy, Innovation and Exports.

We discussed how to boost collaboration between researchers in Québec and Europe, particularly in the framework of Horizon 2020, the European Union’s new seven-year programme for research and innovation.

Earlier this evening, when I met Deputy Minister Knubley I encouraged him to do all he can to help Canadian researchers to participate in Horizon 2020, the EU’s new 80 billion Euro programme for research and innovation.

The EU attaches huge importance to Horizon 2020 as an engine to generate growth and jobs while addressing our major societal challenges.

And the programme has a strong international flavour because solutions to these challenges will only come from ground-breaking research and innovation, which brings together the best minds from across the world, from universities, companies, public organisations and civil society.

We need the best brains, on both sides of the Atlantic, to work together to address our common problems.

Canada will continue to be a much-valued partner. Canada and Europe share not only a long tradition of scientific cooperation; we share so much in terms of culture, history and values.

Think, for instance, of the first regular trans-Atlantic wireless service established by Marconi between Nova Scotia and Clifden, my home area in County Galway in Ireland.

In fact, Canada was Europe’s first international research partner, with the signing in 1959 of the agreement between the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to establish a joint research and development programme.

Our scientists have well-matched research capabilities that make collaboration a natural way to produce excellent research and innovation.

And while the world is rapidly changing, Europe remains an attractive location and partner for research and innovation.

While the EU has just 7% of the world population, we’re responsible for 24% of world expenditure on research, 32% of high impact publications, and 32% of patent applications.

Europe remains, by far, the world’s biggest destination for FDI.

And we’re determined to do much more, and to maintain our position on the global scene. International cooperation will continue to be a vital part of our research and innovation policy.

European and Canadian researchers are already working together in so many areas.

Let me mention just a few.

With the rapid warming of the Arctic and the subsequent retreat of sea ice, the environmental, strategic and economic importance of the Arctic continues to grow.

The changing Arctic environment is not only an early indicator of global warming; it also feeds back and amplifies global climate change, affecting Europe’s climate as well as other regions.

Reconciling the sustainable management of the fragile Arctic environment with economic interests requires policies and innovative solutions that are based firmly on sound knowledge.

At the end of 2013 we launched a four-year EU-funded research project called ICE-ARC, which stands for Ice, Climate, Economics – Arctic Research on Change.

With a budget of 11.5 million Euro, it will look into the current and future changes in Arctic sea ice – due to both changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions.

The project will also investigate the consequences of these changes on the economics of the area, and social aspects such as the effects on indigenous peoples.

The project brings together physicists, chemists, biologists, economists, and sociologists from 21 institutes in 11 countries across Europe.

ICE-ARC is working closely with ArcticNet, the Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence, under the leadership of Professor Louis Fortiers from Laval University.

Research in the Arctic is extremely challenging and costly due to its remoteness and extreme climate. International cooperation in the Arctic is therefore a must – and similar considerations apply to ocean and marine research.

In May last year, the EU and Canada, together with the US, established the Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance to better align our research programmes in the area of marine and Arctic research.

This initiative has already created a tremendous momentum and some 57 million Euro has been earmarked for projects in 2014 and 2015 that should involve Canadian and US researchers.

These two initiatives, and many other on-going research projects are proof that it’s essential to get our researchers working together to pool knowledge, get better quality research and better value for research budgets.

But we also need to think bigger and more strategically and try to create synergies and complementarities between national research agendas and funding programmes where we can.

The Trans-Atlantic Platform for the Social Sciences and Humanities aims to do just that.

The main objective of this Platform is to establish multi-lateral engagement between research funding agencies in Europe and the Americas.

The Netherlands coordinates the European partners, while the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada coordinates the partners on the other side of the Atlantic: Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the USA.

The Platform supports the respective agencies in stepping up international collaboration by sharing best practices, networking and closer coordination of existing and future activities.

Another excellent example of programme-level cooperation with Canada involves the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which is a full partner in the EU’s Joint Programming Initiative dealing with neurodegenerative diseases.

This EU Joint Programme brings together more than 25 European national research programmes and is the largest global research initiative aimed at tackling the challenge of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

In this case, Canada aligns its programmes that deal with neurodegenerative diseases with this initiative and finances Canadian researchers to collaborate with European colleagues.

I am convinced that we need more such initiatives between Canada and the EU to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our research and innovation investments and to get the results demanded by our scientists, our policy makers and the general public.

For the next seven years the EU will address societal challenges by investing through Horizon 2020 in research and innovation, and we are strongly encouraging more EU-Canada cooperation in this context.

Horizon 2020 is open to participants from around the world, but we will also design targeted international cooperation actions to tackle specific areas of common interest and mutual benefit. They will be developed from the on-going dialogues with our global partners.

Topics encouraging cooperation with Canadian researchers cover areas such as marine and arctic research as mentioned – in particular to implement the Galway Declaration and the Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance – health research, aeronautics, materials research or ICT.

So there are a host of opportunities. It’s important to get the information out there – and that’s precisely why I am in Canada this week.

Canada has established an excellent network of National Contact Points to provide information and assistance.

The number of Canadian participations in the 7th Framework Programme – Horizon 2020’s predecessor – was more than Framework Programmes 1 to 6 put together – and I think that Canada’s strong NCP network can take a lot of the credit for this!

As most of you might know, our host, Public Policy Forum Canada, is a key partner in another EU funded project called ERA-CAN Plus.

The ERA-CAN Plus project supports S&T cooperation between the EU and Canada and involves in addition the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and another four EU funding agencies.

I would like to thank David Mitchell, as President of the Public Policy Forum but also as partner of the ERA-CAN Plus consortium, for his invitation and for taking the initiative to bring us together tonight.

Today, there are almost 200 EU research and innovation projects with Canadian participants, making Canada one of our top international research partners.

In addition, Canadian researchers have received hundreds of grants from the European Research Council or from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie scheme.

The Destination Europe initiative – which had its Canadian launch at McGill University on Monday – aims to raise awareness of the many opportunities and practical as well as financial support available to individual researchers who want to spend part of their career in Europe – both through the European programmes and Member State programmes.

But we can do much more.

Information – from the sources I just mentioned – is crucial.

But money is also important. Matching funding for Canadian researchers to participate in European projects is often lacking, and this can be a real brake on collaboration.

I am impressed by the Québec Government’s approach to financing their researchers’ participation in Horizon 2020. This is an important signal to Europe but hopefully also a signal towards the rest of Canada.

Would it, for instance, be possible for the federal government to provide a similar solution, country-wide, as a kind of “Canadian matching fund” to Horizon 2020?

I understand that Canada’s International Science and Technology Partnerships Programme develop S&T cooperation between with countries like India, China, or Brazil. I would be very keen to see Canada opening these International S&T Partnerships towards the EU and Horizon 2020.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’ll finish there. Again, thank you for inviting me.

Canada and the European Union are good friends and natural partners. We’re facing common challenges, we have well-matched capabilities, and we have shared values. So let’s renew our commitment to work together.

European scientists and innovators are keen to work with you, so come join us!

Thank you.

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