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Global Europe in research and innovation

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The biggest challenges confronting humanity necessitate countries work together. At the Marseille Conference on 8 March, Europe explored the path forward for international collaboration in research and innovation. 
 
Now more than ever we bear witness to the achievements made possible in research, when countries collaborate closely and gain access to the right tools and expertise to get the job done. Years of international research collaborations in academia and industry underpinned the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the development of vaccines.

At the same time, geopolitical developments in the past decade have shown that collaboration sometimes needs to be modulated. The illegal Russian military aggression against Ukraine is a clear example of such developments. The EU has strongly condemned the invasion and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that sanctions would include limiting Russia’s access to crucial technology, such as semiconductors or cutting-edge software. The Commission has suspended cooperation with Russia on research and innovation and Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel, issued a statement

However, with those countries that respect fundamental values, the EU is committed to keep an open approach. This is not just beneficial, it is necessary. 

Fostering mutually beneficial international cooperation in research and innovation

‘It is not possible for one country alone to tackle challenges such as climate change or pandemics, which know no borders,’ said Dr Frédérique Vidal, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. ‘Pooling efforts, knowledge and capacities is essential to tackle these global challenges.’ 

The minister addressed the Ministerial Conference on a Global Approach to Research, Innovation and Higher Education. Held in Marseille on 8 March, the event highlighted the global nature of science and how the EU continues to stretch out a hand of cooperation to countries around the world, but also strives to ensure that collaborations are mutually beneficial and fair. It comes a year after the European Commission’s own strategy paper on the “Global Approach to Research and Innovation”.

The conference was jointly organised by the French Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, and the French Ministry for European and Foreign affairs, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and the European Commission. 

‘The message of this conference to third countries is that the European Union is open, and will remain open, to international collaboration in the fields of higher education, research and innovation,’ noted Minister Vidal.  

The French Presidency is set to draw up the ‘Marseille declaration’ on international cooperation in research and innovation. According to Minister Vidal, the Marseille declaration will promote reciprocity and a level playing field, but also respect for basic values to ensure that researchers and innovators experience the right working conditions.    

‘Humanity has lots of crises right now. Not just the pandemic, but climate change for example,’ said Dr Mostafa Moonir Shawrav, young researcher and chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA). ‘And we haven’t decided how to tackle these challenges yet.’ He notes that despite the existential threat from Covid-19, there were no pre-existing coordinated efforts from governments ready to deal with what was an acknowledged risk – a devastating pandemic.  

He described the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines as the fruit of 20 years of basic science and collaborations between industry, policymakers and researchers. ‘Whatever we enjoy today is because of investment in research and work done over the past decades,’ he said.

Rebalancing global cooperation 

The conference in Marseille was a step towards allowing European countries to adapt to significant changes in the international situation since 2012, when the previous strategy on international research and innovation collaboration was drawn up.  

‘Global challenges require a global response, and in particular, consultations between Europeans,’ said Minister Vidal, ahead of the conference. ‘On the other hand, the scientific and technological environment has become increasingly competitive, with some countries exploiting science or limiting the ability of researchers, students or innovators wishing to collaborate with them.’

Some countries have closed access to certain research infrastructures, for example. This is why it is necessary to rebalance international cooperation, Minister Vidal explained, so that it remains reciprocal and mutually beneficial, but also respects the rights of researchers, academics and students. 

Having the right structures in place will ensure fair and productive collaborations. Dr Shawrav stresses that science diplomacy is one way to encourage beneficial cooperation between nations, and to allow scientists to work together on grand challenges.  

One example is CERN, the European research organisation that runs high energy physics experiments in particle colliders beneath the Swiss-French border. It is run by 23 Member States and involves many non-European countries too. CERN scientists won the Nobel prize in physics in 2019

Horizon 2020 projects often mandate that researchers from three countries take part.  ‘It is really eye-opening for early career researchers, who join and go to different workshops,’ said Dr Shawrav.  ‘And understand, okay, the world is much bigger than I thought before, and the topics and challenges are bigger, but then they see that the opportunities are much greater because you can collaborate with others, even globally.’

For the Marseille conference, the construction of a common approach at the European level is something that the French Presidency of the Council of the EU is keen to promote, said Minister Vidal. It will allow for the future implementation of work begun by a communication sent out on 18 May 2021, on the global approach to research and innovation, bolstered by the conclusions adopted by the Council of the European Union on 28 September 2021.  

Promoting principles and values

The update is seen as necessary at a time when geopolitical tensions are rising and human rights and fundamental values are being challenged, with concerns about threats to academic freedom, about gender inequality, around intellectual property rights issues and about an uneven playing field.

At the same time, the greatest global challenges demand that European countries and others pull together and leverage their scientific know-how to develop solutions.  

‘The Union distinguishes itself by the general openness to the world of the Horizon Europe programme and the opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programmes,’ stated Minister Vidal. Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.  

‘We see the Marseille conference as an important step toward the launch of a multilateral dialogue on the basis of key principles and values discussed between Member States during the conference, such as freedom of academic research, ethics and integrity, and research excellence, third countries should be encouraged to respect these conditions,’ Minister Vidal added. ‘Thereafter, it will be necessary to ensure the continuity of this dialogue.’

She said that the negotiation of roadmaps between the Union and its partners is also an interesting instrument, as shown by the dialogue currently underway with the People’s Republic of China.  

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper selected as UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year 2021 Award

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Following reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women collecting firewood in Rubkona, South Sudan, Captain Irene Wilson Muro and and Major Winnet Zharare (2nd from the right) reached out to local women to discuss ways to stem the abuse. Photo: UNMISS

A Zimbabwean peacekeeper who recently completed her assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan, will receive the 2021 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. 

Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, served in Bentiu, South Sudan in 2021-2022, and will receive the award from the Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, 26 May 2022.

Created in 2016, the United Nations “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, as nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations.

Secretary-General António Guterres commended Major Winnet for her award. “Major Zharare is a role model and a trailblazer. Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” he said. “Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres added. 

Major Zharare expressed her gratitude and pride in receiving  the award which, she said, “motivated [her] to maintain [her] course towards gender equality.”

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” she added.

Major Winnet Zharare deployed to UNMISS in November 2020. Throughout her 17-month-long service, she advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.

As the Chief Military Information Officer in UNMISS’  Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection efforts as well as build trust between host communities and the Mission. Her efforts also contributed to an increase in  gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would gain appropriate attention.

Advocating for gender parity and womens’ participation in an environment where they are traditionally excluded from decision-making, she encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve both men and women in meetings with the UN. Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues pertaining to women’s protection and rights. During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, Major Zharare also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and in the construction of dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.

Major Zharare is the first Zimbabwean peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award.

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‘New dawn’ for Europe as War in Ukraine Strengthens EU and Support for Enlargement

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The European Union surprised the world, and even itself, with the speed, scale and unity of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This “new” Europe is ready to project both soft and hard power on the world stage, European leaders told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, on the panel at the session, European Unity in a Disordered World?, said the Ukraine war has revealed how powerful Europe is collectively: “This is a new dawn for Europe.”

The war on Ukraine has also revealed weaknesses – including global supply chain vulnerabilities and over-reliance on Russian energy, she said, but Europe is addressing this and can begin to flex its muscles on the global stage. “Europe has untapped purchasing power, trading power, technology power, pension power and moral power.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, reinforced the point. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said. “Europe can become the global project for peace.”

Mistakes of the past will be rectified, she said. “For way too long we did not seriously consider an energy union where we can rely on each other rather than on a country that can switch us off at any time.”

Referring to the EU’s support and defence of Ukraine, she was emphatic: “This is not the time to talk about face-saving for Russia or appeasement.”

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, also on the panel, said: “If Ukraine falls to Russian aggression, Slovakia is next.” He added that we must continue to provide military support as well as step up humanitarian aid. “Above all we need to give Ukrainians hope.”

“Let’s not compromise – we must remain faithful to the values of the EU – freedom, rule of law, human dignity and equal rights.”

Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “The people of Europe have spoken. Enough is enough.” In response there is much stronger unanimity between member states and more support than ever to accept the accession of new members.

He continued: “We see the EU’s future in terms of the green economy and in terms of the digitalization but also in terms of enlargement.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called on European member states to continue to raise their defence spending. “The NATO alliance members are inseparable, but Europe must play its part,” he said. “This will help transform Europe from a soft power to a hard power.”

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Geopolitical Crises Forcing Leaders to Face up to Difficult New Realities

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Poland’s President Andrzej Duda delivered a harsh rebuke to Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, pledging “100% support” for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and calling for Moscow to pay reparations to Kyiv. “I simply cannot accept that Russia can violate international law with impunity.”

Russian aggression against Ukraine has revived unity within the West and highlighted for many Western nations the importance of democratic values. Finland and Sweden, notably, have set aside their longstanding policies of neutrality and applied to join NATO. “We are in a totally new situation and have to wake up to that,” said Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, noting that the collapse of the post-war European security architecture, as well as Russia’s increased appetite for risk, were among the major factors prompting Finland to apply for membership.

Haavisto said that in this “grey time” between the Nordic country’s application to join the alliance and its potential full accession, when it will enjoy mutual security protection under Article 5 of the NATO charter, NATO members have given Finland and Sweden assurances that they will guarantee security. Asked about Turkey’s stated objection to extension of membership to Finland and Sweden, he expressed confidence that Helsinki can address concerns.

Alarmed by an increasingly competitive geopolitical landscape marked by mounting frictions between the United States and China, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, emphasized the need for cooperation.

“If we learned anything from COVID, it is that we need to focus on cooperation and I think we need to continue to look towards avenues to foster that cooperation. Even when there is difference, when there’s competition, we need to find mechanisms to talk to each other.” He noted that Saudi Arabia, which values both its extensive trade relationship with China and its national security relationship with the US, is well-positioned to facilitate dialogue between the world’s leading powers.

Prince Faisal’s remarks were echoed by Pakistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, who commented on the “binary choice” that countries with close ties to both China and the US are increasingly asked to make. “We are typically asked this question all the time: Who do you choose? It shows how far we have fallen as a global community,” she said. This is particularly difficult, she noted, for a country like Pakistan, which is already in fiscal crisis and now faces “the superimposition of a food security crisis”.

Gregory W. Meeks, Democratic Congressman from New York’s 6th District and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign, praised the bipartisan support for a recent Senate bill pledging $40 billion in humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, as well as the broad international support that Ukraine has received.

He also focused on the potential food crisis, emphasizing the need to break the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports so Ukrainian grain can be delivered to the many countries that depend on it. “You got to open [the port of Odessa] up because that’s not been just limited to what’s happening in Ukraine; this threatens the entire world.”

Madrid is host to next month’s NATO summit and Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares Bueno, praised the alliance’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. But he emphasized the threat that the looming food crisis, if left unresolved, could pose to Europe. Noting that the Sahel – the region of North Africa bordering the Sahara – is not only already deeply food-insecure, he warned that rising cereal prices could set off a potentially destabilizing northward migration. “Unity is our best defence.”

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