The Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation (SFIC) contributed to the internationalisation of the European Research Area (ERA). It was a forum where the EU Commission, the EU Member States and the Associated States to the EU Research Framework Programmes exchange information on international research and innovation activities and try to find synergies in international research collaboration. SFIC's activities were conculded in 2021.
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Focus and Activities
SFIC was an advisory body consisting of representatives of the EU Commission, EU Member States (members) and Associated Countries (observers). It gave advice to both the Council of the EU and the Commission. The main tasks of SFIC included:
- Priority setting for international R&I cooperation by implementing concrete joint activities
- Identifying common R&I strengths to meet global challenges
- Giving a platform to exchange views, ideas and information on international R&I cooperation
- fostering exchange and enable mutual learning at European level
SFIC identified complementary activities of individual Member States and the EU Commission. It seeked to create 'European added value'.
Cooperation was put into action:
- by setting similar priorities in bilateral cooperation,
- by finding ways to open up national funding programmes,
- or by linking initiatives at the political level.
The core task of SFIC was to bundle existing initiatives, projects and funds in International Cooperation (INCO) in a meaningful way so that no additional funds were needed.
At the end of 2020, the Strategy Forum published a statement in response to the Commission's Communication of 30 September 2020. In this statement, SFIC underlined the importance of implementing European strategies, such as the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda. These strategies require close cooperation with partners from around the world.
Furthermore, the opinion made clear that important developments, such as artificial intelligence and big data, came from other regions than Europe (so-called third countries). For this reason, a common approach would be needed on how to work with third countries and how to position Europe in this rapidly changing environment.
With a view to a 'new European Research Area', SFIC recommended the inclusion of international cooperation activities in the Council's decision-making proposals, as well as better coordination between Member States and the EU Commission in bilateral and multilateral contexts.
In its communication dated 24 September 2008, the EU Commission drafted a strategic framework for international cooperation in science and technology. The European Council approved this communication on 2 December 2008 resulting in the implementation of a strategy forum for international STI cooperation (SFIC – Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation).
After its entry into force in 2008, SFIC regularly met 4 times a year in plenary under the direction of its Chair and with the support of the SFIC Council Secretariat.
SFIC activities were initiated by one or more members in the plenary sessions. They were often concretised by mandated working groups. The working groups had a regional or thematic focus. In case of an ad-hoc topic, a task force was set up and, in some cases, mandated as a working group.
How SFIC worked
Most of the working groups had a country or regional focus. There were working groups on Africa, Brazil, China, India, Russia and the USA. Working groups usually developed measures to achieve specific goals in R&I cooperation with the given country. For example, strategic research agendas with thematic priorities were published and dialogue with the international partner country jointly sought (India, Brazil). This involved the local European science officers. Likewise, close cooperation with relevant thematic EU projects, joint programming or national initiatives was aimed at.
The thematic working groups dealt with overarching issues of cooperation with third countries. There also was a task force on science diplomacy. Its aim was to develop a common agenda for European science diplomacy. Priority was given to increased exchange on science diplomacy strategies, work processes and activities. In 2019, a benchmarking working group identified and compared the approaches and instruments used in international R&I cooperation by the countries represented in SFIC.
Most of the SFIC members were representatives of the research ministries of their countries. For Germany, this was the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The International Bureau supported the BMBF in its work in SFIC in very close cooperation.
All members acted on the basis of variable geometry, i.e. they did not have to unanimously support every initiative, but only those that were also relevant to national goals and political priorities.
Cooperation with Third Countries
SFIC also realised 'European added value' by working with the EU Commission and the European External Action Service to shape political dialogue processes with international partner countries and regions (e.g. with Southeast Asia (EU-ASEAN). The dialogues strengthened the political partnership in research and development. For these dialogues, SFIC actively tried to prepare a coordinated pan-European position.
SFIC also strengthened the international dimension of the ERA by engaging in coordination processes with the Commission on the further development of ERA structures. The ERA stands for a common space for R&I among the EU member states. Researchers, scientific knowledge and technologies should circulate freely. With regard to the ERA, SFIC made recommendations (e.g. on EU research funding) to the Council and the Commission.
Financial, structural and staff resources of SFIC came from national and EU sources.