Africa, a key science and technology partner for the EU

Africa, a key science and technology partner for the EU

Wednesday, 13 March, 2013

A conference in Brussels entitled ‘La Science en Europe: Défis Globaux, Collaboration Globale’ [Science in Europe: Global Challenges, Global Cooperation] brought together, from 4 to 8 March 2013, representatives from the scientific and industrial community and political players from five continents. Co-organised by the Irish presidency of the European Union and the European Parliament, the conference focussed on answers that the scientific world can come up with to meet global socio-economic challenges (1).

Africa and Horizon 2020

Its aim was to encourage new science and technology partnerships and international participation in Horizon 2020, the new European research and innovation programme. Africa has shown a lot of interest in the current 7th European Framework Programme (FP7) and should achieve, following the last call for proposals, nearly 1,000 beneficiaries in around 400 research projects(2).
Horizon 2020, which is due to take over from FP7 in 2014, will be a key instrument in strengthening this cooperation and will indirectly help to support the development of African scientific capacities and the implementation of Africa’s  Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action

The most powerful radio telescope in the world

During the conference, two meetings debated specific programmes that are being carried out as part of the eighth Partnership of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (science, information society and space). On 6 and 7 March, a workshop made up of researchers, engineers, representatives from industry and donors discussed priority actions to be carried out within the ‘African - European Radioastronomy Platform’ (AERAP) http://www.aerap.org/. One of its flagship projects is the construction of the biggest and most powerful radio telescope in the world, the SKA (Square Kilometer Array), in South Africa, with thousands of parabolic antennae that will be positioned in several African countries.

Opportunities

On 7 and 8 March a high level conference, which was attended by representatives from the European Commission and from NEPAD was devoted to the Promoting African – European Research Infrastructure Partnerships (PAERIP) Programme. Financed by FP7, the PAERIP has, for a period of two years, analysed the best existing practices and the opportunities for scientific cooperation in order to expand reciprocal access to existing research infrastructure and to develop new physical (equipment, services, labs, databases etc.) research infrastructure and virtual (electronic) research infrastructure in areas ranging from life sciences to astronomy to genomics to nanotechnologies. Participants recommended strengthening cooperation and investing more in this sector, expanding reciprocal access to researchers from the two continents and maximising socio-economic benefits by converting scientific discoveries into products and services that could improve the lives of citizens.

For example, in the area of combating climate change, a recent report from the European Patents Office (EPO) was presented. It notes that, despite having developed its activities in terms of inventions, Africa still has little to show for it in terms of its own energy technology patents, whereas it still has huge potential (hydroelectric energy, solar energy, geothermic energy, wind energy, biomass etc.). The seven big African river networks could provide the whole continent with hydraulic energy if the continent had the right technologies.