15-03-2012European Parliament calls for radio astronomy partnerships with Africa

Strasbourg 14 March - The European Parliament has called for greater collaboration with Africa in the field of radio astronomy, following its adoption of Written Declaration 45 on science capacity building in Africa: promoting European-African radio astronomy partnerships. Highlighting the value of research infrastructures in promoting human capital development, addressing societal challenges and facilitating inter-regional cooperation, the declaration draws attention to Africa’s exceptional competitive advantages in the study of radio astronomy, reflected in the continent’s extensive array of cutting edge astronomy projects.

The goal of Written Declaration 45 is to harness the scientific and economic benefits of increasing science capacity in Africa. The declaration seeks to promote this through closer European-African partnerships in radio astronomy, as this is an area where Africa holds advantages that are not available in Europe and where there is considerable scope for further growth.

“This means that radio astronomy in Africa has enormous potential for growth and offers opportunities to European researchers and industry that they will not find in Europe” explained Fiona Hall, a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

“The importance of science for socio-economic development in Africa has already been recognised in the Millennium Development Goals. European involvement in African radio astronomy represents a possible driver of socio-economic change” added Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez, Vice-president of the EP and a member of the Committee on Development.

Following its adoption by the European Parliament, Written Declaration 45/2011 will now be forwarded to the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the parliaments of the Member States.

Judith Sargentini, a Vice-Chair for Delegation for relations with South Africa, stated that “In adopting this Written Declaration, Europe’s elected representatives have sent a strong message to their fellow policymakers about the future of European cooperation with Africa. They have recognised that radio astronomy has a bright future in Africa and that Europe can play a valuable role in it. High level science in Africa changes our perception of the continent. This is possible in Africa, and only in Africa.”

Attention will now turn to how Europe can put this message to action. Written Declaration 45/2011 specifically highlights the potential role of Horizon 2020 and the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). Many MEPs who have signed the Written Declaration are sympathetic to the inclusion of new chapters in these programmes which will be relevant to radio astronomy partnerships.

Horizon 2020 is the name given to the EU’s primary instrument for funding scientific research and development between 2014 and 2020. The European Commission proposals for Horizon 2020 were published, in November 2011. This marked the beginning of a negotiation process that will last into 2013.

“Following the adoption of the Written Declaration, a potential addition to Horizon 2020 could emphasise the role of capacity building with a particular focus on astronomy” added Teresa Riera Madurell, MEP and a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. This would draw on elements of the adopted Written Declaration with a view to establishing collaboration with Africa as a programme theme.

The Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is the EU’s main instrument for providing development assistance through the general EU budget. It operates under a separate legislative instrument from Horizon 2020. “Following the adoption of WD 45/2011, MEPs are now well positioned to propose a chapter for the DCI introducing science as a driver for implementing the instrument’s objectives” explained Filip Kaczmarek, a member of Committee on Development.

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