Europe and Africa to create science policy dialogue

CAAST-NET website. Europe is still to decide on the nature of its participation in the proposed policy dialogue between Africa and the European Union (EU), which is expected to be unveiled at the heads of state summit in Libya in November this year.

The EU is still to decide whether the continent’s ministers of science should participate in the dialogue through one of two bodies, the Science Forum on International Co-operation or the European Competitive Council. The forum is an advisory board consisting of senior officials from ministries of foreign affairs and science that advises the EU on how to handle cooperation with developing countries. The council consists of Europe’s ministers of science.

“We still have to reflect on that,” says Fadila Boughanemi, the senior policy officer for Science and Technology Cooperation with African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States at the European Commission.

She adds that the discussions on the correct EU body will not affect the launch of the proposed policy dialogue.

The African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST), the continent’s high-level policy forum led by Egyptian science minister Hani Helal, will spearhead the continent’s participation.

AMCOST and a representative from Europe are expected to co-chair the policy dialogue, which will hold its meetings in Africa every two years. “The idea is not re-inventing anything but to make use of events taking place,” Boughanemi says.

She adds that the policy dialogue will also have an “equivalent of the AMCOST bureau, which will be named the Zone and will hold its meetings concurrently with the bureau every six months. The bureau provides leadership in the implementation of AMCOST decisions.”

A proposal to launch the policy dialogue was presented to AMCOST at its fourth ordinary session, which was held in Cairo, Egypt, in March 2010. Boughanemi says it will operate like AMCOST with senior officials meeting regularly to discuss policy decisions before they are passed on to the ministers for endorsement.

Boughanemi says “we expect African countries to be able to put in whatever little input they have” even though the EU is expected to be the major source of funding for the forum.

Abdel Hamid El-Zoheiry, the coordinator for European cooperation at Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, says the policy dialogue is likely to make ministers more aware of top-quality research being done on the continent.

“When experts discuss, they do so in their personal capacity. But ministers or ministerial representatives have the authority to make binding decisions. Decisions can be made,” El-Zoheiry says.

He adds that the dialogue may also provide a platform for initiatives such as the Joint Expert Group for the 8th EU-Africa Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space (JEG8) to get political backing for their outputs.

“It will have a good impact on advancing {such initiatives} because they will have a portal and platform to reach policymakers,” he says.

African scientists have complained in the past of unequal bilateral science agreements that attach conditionalities and have argued that African scientists are being used as research assistants; meanwhile, the EU has been castigated for the slow disbursement of donor funding. The policy dialogue is intended to address such issues.

This article, published on the Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science & Technology Cooperation Network’s website (CAAST-NET) as part of the first issue of the website’s newsletter, was written by Deborah-Fay Ndhlovu (dfn@research-africa.net), Senior Reporter at Research Africa.

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