Interview with Dr. Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister of Education and Research.
Dr. Annette Schavan is convinced of the need for scientific research that is independent of politics. She hopes that the discussions with India will bring the best research in the European Union and India together. Excerpts from an interview:
What has generated the E.U.'s interest in India and led to a science ministerial conference outside Europe?
India has shown interest in the European research system. ... [T]he E.U. is also looking forward to greater cooperation with India. ... There is a willingness [on both sides] to be engaged in higher levels of cooperation. The agreement on the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research [FAIR] is an excellent example. Furthermore, we want to increase the exchange of youngsters, students and scientists. From a purely German perspectivewe have continued the process that started in Hanover [in April 2006] in the presence of your Minister for Science and Technology [Kapil Sibal]. We wish to prioritise research and higher education cooperation between the two countries.
India has participated in European Framework Programmes for research in the past. How different will it be now?
The Seventh Framework [FP7] is the first European research programme that will be totally open to proposals from non-European partners and to international research groups. Earlier, non-European scientists only participated in European projects. The funds for FP7 are about 60 per cent more than the funds that were available under FP6. And FP7 has, for the first time, identified safety and security research as an area of potential funding, as also the entire area of humanities.
Have there been similar kinds of cooperation with other countries before? In what sense is this cooperation, as stated, unique?
No, the E.U. has never had any non-European strategic partner before. In the future, we may seek to establish similar relationships with other countries, but India is particularly interesting to us given its plurality, diversity and democratic system of governance. What is also important for the countries of the E.U. is the passion for science shown by the political leadership here, the position of science here, which seems to be highly valued.
Then there are areas of mutual interest. We are not discussing only abstract research areas, but areas such as energy supply and energy efficient technologies. I am convinced that science and technology hold the key to solving our problems and bringing down barriers. I personally feel that politics must make more use of scientific research to solve issues of our day and age.
How does the strategic engagement in science and technology with non-European partners such as India gel with the concepts such as the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Research Area (ERA)?
The ERC is the beginning of a new research philosophy in Europe. ... We need independence in science globally, independent of politics and political ideologies. In a nutshell, the ERC is this new thinking in research funding. The aim [in the present discussion] is to bring the best research in the E.U. and India together to develop independent ideas.
How do you see the ideas taking shape from here on?
This [ministerial meeting] has been a milestone in the E.U.-India relationship. It provided an opportunity to discuss new strategies and possible projects for greater cooperation. One proposal that has been agreed upon is the establishment of a Centre of Research and Technology in India. This will be to establish a forum to facilitate dialogue between the research system [both Indian and European] and the industry, especially small and medium enterprises. Both appear set to increase funding in research through FP7. We want to address challenges of mutual interest in a coordinated manner. We want more traffic in science and technology in both directions.