EU-China bilateral cooperation in Science, Technology, and Innovation

Future Europe

Estimated time of reading: ~ 4 minutes

In the speech at the closing ceremony of the Sixth Meeting of the China-France Business Council on 7 May, President Xi Jinping stated, “We should turn China and Europe into each other’s key partners for business cooperation, priority partners for cooperation in science and technology, and trustworthy partners for cooperation in industrial and supply chains”.

The roots of EU-China scientific cooperation can be traced back to 1998. Over the years, this cooperation has been facilitated through various agreements and arrangements, including the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement overseen by a Joint Steering Committee, and more recently, Administrative Arrangements to support collaborative research projects under flagship initiatives.

Cooperation primarily focused on Food, Agriculture, Biotechnology, Climate Change, and Biodiversity, aligning with the EU’s Global Approach to Research and Innovation. While Chinese participant organisations are not automatically eligible for EU funding, mechanisms such as the Co-funding Mechanism and agreements with the National Natural Science Foundation provide avenues for collaboration and support.

A strategic outlook emphasizing cooperation while safeguarding democratic principles and human rights guides the European Union’s approach to its relationship with China in science, technology, and innovation. This policy framework, outlined in documents such as the Elements for a New EU Strategy on China (2016) and Council Conclusions EU Strategy on China (2016), underscores the EU’s commitment to promoting shared values and reciprocal benefits in political and economic interactions.

In 2019, the EU-China Strategic Outlook reaffirmed this commitment, highlighting the need for a realistic, assertive, and multi-faceted approach. Central to this approach is the pursuit of cooperation in addressing global challenges while upholding fundamental principles such as democracy, the rule of law, and respect for international law.

A key aspect of EU-China collaboration is the ongoing discussion regarding a Joint Roadmap for future cooperation in science, technology, and innovation. This roadmap not only establishes a framework for mutually beneficial research environments but also emphasizes reciprocity and respect for fundamental research and innovation values. Despite challenges and imbalances, both parties have launched flagship initiatives focusing on Climate Change and Biodiversity (CCB) and Food Agriculture and Biotechnology (FAB), underscoring their commitment to addressing pressing global issues and reaping the mutual benefits of scientific cooperation.

However, the EU Commission limited China’s participation in specific innovation actions in the Horizon Europe Work Programmes 2023-2024 due to persisting imbalances and the need for more progress in negotiations related to innovation framework conditions.
Nonetheless, China’s involvement in the ITER project and multilateral dialogues on research and innovation principles reveal ongoing cooperation efforts. Moreover, Chinese researchers can access to funding opportunities. Programs like the European Research Council Grants and Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions provide avenues for collaboration and support, fostering mobility and cooperation across borders. This open approach inspires optimism and highlights the potential for further fruitful cooperation.

In summary, the EU’s policy towards China in science, technology, and innovation reflects a balance between cooperation and assertiveness, grounded in shared values and mutual benefits. Despite challenges, the dialogue and the on-going collaboration initiatives underscore the commitment of both parties to addressing global challenges through scientific and technological advancement. This shared purpose and determination instil confidence in the future of EU-China scientific cooperation.

Written by: Cristina Ceccarelli

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