Can EU-Russia Year survive?

Nieuws | de redactie
4 maart 2014 | The timing for the EU-Russia Year of Science could hardly be worse. While Russia is invading the Crimean peninsula, should the EU simply continue funding scientific cooperation? Or will the Russians - after the Swiss - be suspended from Horizon 2020?

At the opening ceremony in Moscow, over 300 guests from science, politics, business and media gathered at Moscow’s famous ‘Hotel Ukraina’. Against the backdrop of a Russian invasion of the Crimea, the agenda for EU-Russian scientific cooperation reads a bit like satire.

The launch of Horizon 2020 and the review of the EU-Russian Science and Technology Agreement would set off this year’s intensified cooperation in the areas of aeronautics, ICT and Arctic research.

Under the former Research Framework Programme FP7 there were already 298 collaboration programmes with Russia, with an EU contribution of € 66,460,461.

“Our challenge today is to keep the pace:  to ensure that none of the priorities are missed, to provide the mechanisms for joint support and to ensure that funds are available”, said Deputy Minister Ludmila M. Ogorodova at the opening ceremony.

After the Swiss, the Russians?

What will the EU do now? When the Swiss voted for stricter immigration rules, limiting the free movement of people, the EU decided to suspend the Swiss from Horizon 2020 programmes and Erasmus+ student exchange programmes. It cannot really be business as usual for the EU-Russian scientific cooperation, can it?

And what about the International Space Station (ISS)? Suspending scientific cooperation with Russia would endanger the ISS. Without Russian transport flights and manned space probes, there will be little work in space for the Europeans and the Americans.

Dutch astronaut André Kuipers needed Russian training to be able to get on board of ISS. In an interview with ScienceGuide he said: “I would have never thought it possible that a Dutch physician, grown up during the Cold War, would ever be a co-pilot in a Russian Soyuz rocket.” But he did.

Pessimistic scenarios ‘likely to happen’

Apart from all the celebrations, policy makers did consider decreasing scientific cooperation with Russia. In a policy document the European Commission last year pushed forward an extremely positive scenario on EU-Russian cooperation:  

“In the year 2020 we are looking back at a decade of prosperous cooperation in Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) between the EU and Russia. Russia’s participation as an associated country in the EU’s Horizon 2020 RDI funding programme has proven an unexpected huge success. A free trade zone has been established between the EU and Russia and Russia acceded to the OECD.”

Nevertheless the reports admit that 60% of the respondents to their survey considered the more pessimistic scenario’s “rather or very likely to happen.”

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