26-03-2012New era in EU-Africa scientific collaboration


Brussels, March 26 – The adoption by the European Parliament of Written Declaration 45 on Science Capacity Building in Africa has given practical effect to a vibrant Africa-EU partnership by supporting stronger collaboration in radio astronomy projects. This collaboration will bring the importance of research, development and innovation into clearer focus and expand the relationship between African and Europe beyond the traditional emphasis on aid cooperation.

The Written Declaration highlights the potential of supporting Africa-EU collaboration in radio astronomy in the EU’s next Research and Development Framework Programme, Horizon 2020, and recognises the importance of Science Capacity building within the EU’s development agenda, with particular emphasis on the Development Cooperation Instrument. Almost 400 Members of the European Parliament signed the declaration which will be now forwarded to the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the parliaments of the Member States.

Members of the European Parliament who sponsored the Written Declaration, together with guest Ms Naledi Pandor, South African Minister for Science and Technology, formally announced the adoption of the Declaration in a press briefing at the European Parliament.

Written Declaration 45 highlights the value of research infrastructures in promoting human capital development, addressing societal challenges and facilitating inter-regional cooperation. Its goal 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, where there is considerable scope for further growth and market opportunities for both continents.

The declaration draws attention to Africa’s exceptional competitive advantages in the study of radio astronomy and gives recognition to Africa’s own investments in this area, reflected in the continent’s extensive array of cutting edge astronomy projects.

“In the EU we have learned that science and research are the engines for growth and development” explained Fiona Hall, a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. “Those of us who put forward this declaration have realised that radio astronomy and space can be a driver for growth and development in Africa in the same way. In particular it’s a driver for infrastructure development, for getting broadband in place. It’s a way that young people who might want to leave the continent to further their careers can be held onto.” She concluded that “Africa-EU cooperation in radio astronomy is very much to the advantage of both sides.”

Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez, Vice-president of the EP and a member of the Committee on Development, remarked that “…with practically 400 signatures supporting the Written Declaration, European Parliament has shown that there is a commitment. We are initiating a new field of action. Members from the 27 EU countries have signed, members from all political groups have signed. The Commission has to take this into consideration”.

Judith Sargentini, a Vice-Chair for Delegation for relations with South Africa, highlighted that “We have a [radio astronomy based] project which looks at Africa as a continent of chances, a continent that is modernising.” Ms Sargentini added that “somehow people do not relate the continent of Africa to hard science, and here there is a direct relation. This will change the minds of people about the possibilities that this continent has.”

Minister Naledi Pandor described her feelings of being “overwhelmed and excited by the progress which we’ve achieved”. She added that “any advance in science is an advance for humanity, and I think this is what we are doing through the adoption of this declaration.” Minister Pandor also predicted that “we will begin as Africa and the EU but I believe eventually it’s going to be a global partnership. It has to be if we are going to reach the highest level of scientific endeavour and enterprise.”

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. Many MEPs who have signed the Written Declaration are sympathetic to the inclusion of a new chapter in this programme 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. “We have done a great deal in the context of the Seventh Framework Programme and we’d like to see Horizon 2020 locate radio astronomy as a strong part of its focus”” added Minister Pandor.

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.

Fiona Hall added that “In terms of what we do in the European Parliament, I think it’s now a question of being conscious of this as a strand of what we do, whether on the industry committee [or] on the development committee”. Ms Hall concluded that “There are a number of contexts in the European Parliament where we will be able to take this forward.”


The video of the press conference can be found on the website of the European Parliament TV. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/other-events/video?event=20120321-1200-SPECIAL&category=SPECIAL&format=wmv

Photos are available upon request.

Written Declaration 45/2011 on “Science Capacity Building in Africa: promoting European African radio astronomy partnerships” was tabled by five MEPs – Filip Kaczmarek (EPP), Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez (S&D), Teresa Riera Madurell (S&D), Fiona Hall (ALDE) and Judith Sargentini (GREENS).

A Written Declaration is a text of a maximum of 200 words on a matter falling within the European Union’s sphere of activities. A group of up to five MEPs can submit a written declaration by presenting a text to be signed by their colleagues. If the declaration is signed by a majority of the MEPs, it is forwarded to the President, who announces it in plenary. At the end of the part-session, the declaration is forwarded to the institutions named in the text, together with the names of the signatories.

Europe’s population density and sky coverage are not suitable to host the most innovative observatories. Africa, on the other hand, offers coverage of the astronomically “rich” southern sky, low levels of radio frequency interference, and very little light pollution.

African continent already hosts some of the world’s most exciting astronomy facilities, including the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the Gamma Ray telescope HESS in Namibia and the Astronomy Development Office of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Now South Africa is building one of the world’s largest radio telescope arrays, MeerKAT. A group of nine African countries (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia) is also a candidate site to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s biggest radio telescope that will allow scientists to address many of the fundamental, unanswered questions about the universe we live in.

Such large scale research projects are important for Africa as they attract youth towards scientific studies, boost human capital development and contribute to socioeconomic development. New employment opportunities and development of basic services and infrastructures also effectively contrast the brain drain that costs Africa billions of dollars each year.


Filip Kaczmarek is a member of the largest political group in the European Parliament, Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP). He is a member of Committee on Development, Delegations for relations with the Pan-African Parliament and Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez is a Vice-president of the European Parliament. Currently he is serving his third term as an MEP. He is a member of Committee on Development, Delegation for relations with the Pan-African Parliament and Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. He is a member of Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D).

Teresa Riera Madurell is a member of Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D). She is the S&D coordinator in Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

Fiona Hall is a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. She is a member of Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). She is leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament and is a member of the Delegation for relations with the Pan-African Parliament and Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

Judith Sargentini is a Vice-Chair for Delegation for relations with South Africa and a member of Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. She is a member of Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (GREENS).


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