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EU told its Covid-19 R&D plan lacks international links

Image: Tom Grill, via Shutterstock

Research cooperation on the pandemic should be stepped up, EU advisers say

The European Commission’s plan to steer EU member states’ research and innovation on Covid-19 “lacks a clear international dimension”, an influential advisory committee has said.

The constructive criticism came from the Strategic Forum for International Science and Technology Cooperation, a dedicated configuration of the European Research Area Committee, in a report published on 6 May. ERAC advises the Commission and member states, and is made up of delegates from them.

Although the SFIC committee praised the EU’s international actions on Covid-19 so far, including a pledging conference held on 4 May that led to €7.4 billion being committed from global donors to work on vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, it said the Commission and member states must do more.

“Joint research and innovation activities as well as coordination of research and innovation agendas…or sharing experiences with third countries is so far only happening on [a] marginal scale,” the committee said.

The committee called for “strengthened international research and innovation cooperation to tackle the disease and to mitigate the consequences of the health crisis”.

Coordinated or joint research and innovation funding calls including non-EU countries should be opened, the committee said, also suggesting that current projects could get a “top-up” to add international partners.

Supranational organisations for public health and science coordination are in a weakened state, according to the committee, which warned this could hamper international cooperation. It said the EU should keep supporting initiatives such as those from the World Health Organization and the public-private Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness.

Covid-19 research and innovation could also play a bigger role in wider Commission policies, such as those dedicated to EU enlargement and foreign affairs, and particular attention should go to building R&D capacity in Africa, the committee said.

The Commission plan critiqued by the committee was published on 7 April and set out 10 initial short-term actions for research and innovation coordination on Covid-19.

These included coordination of research and innovation funding, regarding which the Commission has said initial discussions took place on 17 April. Some actions have already been completed, including the creation of an online portal for sharing Covid-19 research data.

The Commission declined to comment for this article, but Research Professional News understands work is underway to broaden the international aspects of the plan beyond the EU, including by linking EU R&D projects with international equivalents via matchmaking events, and that discussions have been held with policymakers in Africa and the southern Mediterranean.

This article was updated on 8 May to reflect the Commission position.