Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation
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The Strategic Forum for international S&T cooperation (SFIC) is a dedicated configuration of ERAC (European Research Area and Innovation Committee) that facilitates the further development, implementation and monitoring of the international dimension of the European Research Area, with focus on European Union and Member States' research and innovation activities outside the EU and Associated Countries.
SFIC is set-up as an advisory group where representatives of the EU Commission, EU Member States (Members) and Associated Countries (Observers) are participating. The Secretariat is provided by the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU and SFIC is chaired by an EU Member State, designated for a period of 3 years.
Role and main tasks
Within the mandate of SFIC, the following focus activities are set out:
Providing strategic and timely advice on international S&T cooperation;
Developing and implementing appropriate joint strategic approaches and actions for international R&I cooperation on the basis of national priorities (in line with ERA Roadmap - Priority 6);
Providing input for the implementation and further development of the ERA Roadmap;
Cooperating with and, when relevant, reporting to ERAC and other ERA-related Groups by contributing to the mainstreaming of the international dimension in the other ERA priorities;
Systematically sharing and structuring information and good practice on international R&I cooperation activities and objectives, including those derived from bilateral S&T agreements with third countries by Member States, Associated Countries and the Union;
Pooling and sharing relevant knowledge concerning third countries as well as ensuring regular consultation between the members in order to identify their respective objectives and common priorities in terms of R&I cooperation with third countries, also in line with the Multi-Annual Roadmaps process and relevant policy dialogues;
Information exchange and networking with scientific advisors in key third countries.
In this context SFIC tries to identify complementary activities between EU Member States and the European Commission as well as potential for joint bilateral and multilateral activities with third countries or regions and thereby seeks to create "European added value".
Working method of SFIC
Four plenary meetings of SFIC are scheduled each year which are planned by a the Steering Board (consisting of the SFIC Secretariat, the SFIC Chair, the Deputy Chair and interested SFIC members) which meets either in person or virtually and is responsible for preparing the agenda, the relevant documents and decision to take etc. Regularly the plenary meetings are complemented by back-to back thematic or strategic workshops.
The meetings are led by SFIC's Chairperson and supported by the SFIC Council Secretariat as well as the SFIC Vice-Chair. The current Chair of SFIC is Martina Hartl (Deputy Head of the Department of International Research Cooperation and Science Diplomacy within the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Research) supported by Tiina Vihma-Purovaara from the Finnish Ministry of Education, Science and Culture as Vice-Chair.
Every meeting features as a standing agenda point an exchange between the EU Member States, Associated Countries and the European Commission on current activities related to international cooperation in science, technology and innovation. Other thematic or strategic activities are in general initiated by one or several members of the plenary meeting and, given there is enough interest of a critical mass of countries, they are then further developed by working groups / ad-hoc groups or task forces. Depending on the goals and timeframe of the work, these groups either are given an official mandate or are working until the set out task is achieved (e.g. when preparing specific documents, reports or opinions). They meet in phone or video conferences or in person, based on a variable geometry, are managed by one of their members (acting as 'rapporteur'), report regularly to the plenary meeting about the status of their work and, as applicable, submit documents for approval of the delegations.
So far, SFIC has featured working groups focusing on Brazil, China, India, Russia and the USA as well as a thematic ad-hoc group on gender in international STI cooperation (in cooperation with the Standing Working Group on Gender in STI) and strategic working groups related to framework conditions and the toolbox for international cooperation.
Current running groups relate to benchmarking of international cooperation and science diplomacy and a renewed thematically focused group on China as well as a group on STI activities with Africa are in preparation.
Moreover a number of SFIC members are currently also involved in the Mutual Learning Exercise on “National Strategies and Roadmaps for International Cooperation in Research and Innovation” where Member States exchange their experiences on the different approaches regarding the development of national strategies and priorities as well as in implementing and monitoring these strategies.
Policy dialogue with international partner countries
The European Union has formal agreements on cooperation in scientific and technological cooperation with around 20 countries and dedicated roadmaps for S&T cooperation, mainly in the context of the EU Framework Programmes, with the following (currently twelve) countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and USA.
SFIC gives input to the various coordination activities and policy dialogue processes with international partner countries and regions led by the European Commission and the European External Action Service. One of these formats are the 'Senior Official Meetings' (SOMs), which exist for a number of regions: Latin America and the 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).
Supporting the goal of “internationalisation” within the European Research Area
Within the European Research Area internationalisation is one of the six priority areas and refers to issues like international-co-publications, brain circulation and bilateral as well as multilateral international cooperation activities. The 2018 progress report on the European Research Area concludes that “In general, the extent of international cooperation activities between ERA and non-ERA countries is on the rise.” Taking international co-publications as one example there is a positive trend already since 2005 with small but steady increases in co-publications with non-ERA countries (from 2005 to 2014 + 4.1% annually and from in 2014-2016 + 4.4 % annually).
However, it seems that more advanced R&I systems also have more collaborations and are better equipped to sustain and initiate new partnerships. In addition more efforts are needed with view to attracting the best talents to come to Europe.
SFIC is shaping the international dimension of the ERA by engaging in coordination processes with the Commission to further developing ERA structures and by monitoring and reporting on the efforts within the various national roadmaps.
SFIC output and impact
SFIC provides recommendations to the European Council and the European Commission:
Related to the development of the international cooperation perspective within the EU Framework Programmes;
With regard to the funding mechanisms and instruments necessary for facilitating international STI cooperation;
With view to linking the activities of SFIC with other ERA-related groups or EU-funded projects and initiatives;
Related to the advancement of monitoring the international cooperation perspectives with adequate indicators.
The work of the SFIC is partly implemented through Task Forces and Working Groups and can be followed through their work programmes, annual reports to the European Counciland the European Commission as well as meeting reports and written opinions (see section 03 KEY DOCUMENTS below).