The role of the SFIC: Strategic development and political coordination
SFIC is an advisory group consisting of representatives of the EU Commission, EU Member States (Members) and Associated States (Observers). It advises both the Council and the Commission. The main tasks of SFIC include:
- setting priorities for international research and innovation cooperation, on the one hand by using a long-term strategy and on the other hand by employing concrete activities
- identifying research and innovation strengths in Europe to meet global challenges
- acting as agent and coordinator between commission and member states
- fostering horizontal policy coordination at national and European level
- driving mutual exchange and enabling learning from each other
SFIC identifies complementary activities of individual Member States and the Commission and seeks to create "European added value". By opening up national programmes, setting similar priorities in bilateral cooperation or linking initiatives at the political level, cooperation is put into practice.
Most of the SFIC representatives come from the research ministries of the Member Sates or Associated Countries. For Germany, this is the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The International Bureau closely supports the BMBF with the cooperation in SFIC. This cooperation ranges from the preparation and follow-up of meetings to national coordination processes.
How SFIC works
In its communication dated 24 September 2008, the Commission drafted a strategic framework for international cooperation in science and technology. This was approved by the European Council on 2 December 2008 resulting in the implementation of a strategy forum for international STI cooperation (SFIC – Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation).
Representatives of the MS and the EU get together four times a year in a plenary meeting at the Council Building in Brussels. The meetings are led by SFIC's Chairperson and supported by the SFIC Council Secretariat. SFIC activities are initiated by one or several members of the plenary meeting and then further developed by working groups. The groups meet based on a variable geometry and are managed by one of their members ('rapporteur'); their objective is defined by a mandate. They meet in phone or video conferences or in person and regularly report to the plenary meeting. The plenary meetings are prepared by the SFIC Steering Board, which consists of the SFIC Secretariat, the SFIC Chair, the Deputy Chair and interested SFIC members.
SFIC working groups
With the founding of the first working groups in SFIC, a focus on countries rather than on tools or thematic priorities has prevailed. Accordingly, SFIC has already had working groups on Brazil, China, India, Russia and the USA. The country working groups developed measures to achieve specific objectives in research cooperation with the given country. Strategic research agendas with thematic priorities were developed, e.g. by seeking the dialogue with the international partner country, involving European science officers, and incorporating relevant EU thematic projects, joint programming or national initiatives. The mandates of the country related working groups have now expired.
Since 2015, there has been another type of working group without a geographical focus: The so-called "toolbox" working group aims to develop a guideline with national instruments for international cooperation. The working group has already carried out various activities to prepare the guideline. These included a survey among the Member States and the Associated States, which systematically evaluated the currently used tools. In addition, the survey studied preferred target countries as well as topics of international STI cooperation. Furthermore, the working group organised several workshops in which different stakeholders discussed their experiences with different instruments and identified examples of successful cooperation. The results of these activities will be included in the guideline, which is expected to be published by the end of 2018.
Policy dialogue with international partner countries
SFIC also realises 'European added value' by organising policy dialogue processes with international partner countries and regions in cooperation with the Commission and the European External Action Service. Such 'Senior Official Meetings' (SOMs) exist for the Latin American Caribbean (EU-CELAC), Africa (EU-AU), the Mediterranean region (EUMED), the Balkan region and South-Eastern Europe, the EU's Eastern Neighbours (EU EaP), Southeast Asia (EU-ASEAN) and India (EU-India GSO). Their purpose ist to foster exchange and strengthen the political partnership in research and innovation. In the context of these processes, SFIC actively seeks to prepare a coordinated pan-European position.
The SFIC partnership and coordination provides greater coherence between the activities of the Member States and the EU, which is appreciated particularly by the major international partner countries. This applies both in the context of the EU policy dialogue and to the national STI cooperation with specific partner countries, which is supplemented by the knowledge of the priorities of other MS and the EU. The collaboration of SFIC members also helps in drawing greater attention to the international aspects of research and innovation cooperation at European summits and ministerial meetings.
Strengthening the European Research Area
SFIC is shaping the international dimension of the ERA by engaging in coordination processes with the Commission to further develop ERA structures. SFIC makes recommendations to the Council and the Commission. SFIC offers the Council and the Commission recommendations such as in relation to the tools used within EU research funding, on designing the work programmes of Horizon2020, and linking the activities of other ERA groups or EU-funded projects with SFIC initiatives. This also includes recommendations on indicators to measure the success of international STI collaboration.
Since October 2016, Rozenn Saunier (France) has been the Chairwoman of SFIC. She is the Deputy Director of the European and International Cooperation Department of the French Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research. The Chair is elected every three years by the SFIC members. So far, Germany (MinDir Volker Rieke, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 2009-11), Finland (Dr. Riita Mustonen, Academy of Finland, 2011-13) and most recently Sweden (Dan Andrée, VINNOVA office in Brussels, 2013-16 ) chaired the panel. The Deputy Chair is from a diffferent member state and elected for a divergent time period. Since March 2017, Tiina Vihma-Purovaara from the Finnish Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has been Deputy Chair.
Financial, structural and staff resources of SFIC come from national and EU sources. All members act on the basis of a so-called 'variable geometry', i.e. they do not have to unanimously support every initiative, but only those that are also relevant to their national goals and policy priorities. In addition, SFIC's core task is to bundle existing initiatives, projects and funds in a meaningful way so that no additional funds are needed.