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
In SFIC, working groups on thematic issues or those with a country focus are regularly established. There have already been working groups on Brazil, China, India, Russia and the USA. The country working groups developed measures to achieve certain goals in research cooperation with the specific country. For example, strategic research agendas with thematic focuses were developed and dialogue with the international partner country was sought. In doing so, the European science officers abroad are involved in strategic approaches. A close cooperation and regular exchange with relevant thematic EU projects, joint programming or national initiatives is of course also integrated part of the mode of work.
The thematic working groups, on the other hand, deal with overarching issues of cooperation with third countries. The benchmarking working group, which has worked out and compared the approaches and instruments used by the countries represented in the Forum, is currently finishing its work and submitting its final report.
SFIC regularly publishes statements on international cooperation, which are prepared in ad hoc task forces between plenary sessions and are coordinated between the states. Currently, four task forces with German participation are working in parallel to prepare SFIC opinions, reports and tools: Africa, China, Science Diplomacy and the SFIC communication strategy.
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.
In October 2019 Martina Hartl has been elected as SFIC Chair. She is Deputy Head of Unit for international cooperation in research at the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science 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), Sweden (Dan Andrée, VINNOVA office in Brussels, 2013-16 ) and most recently France (Dr. Rozenn Saunier Ministry for Education, Science and Research, 2016-19) chaired the panel. The Deputy Chair is from a different 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.
SFIC Plenary in Brussels 27 May 2020