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European Union and Israel Reach Deal on Funding Program

27 November 2013 2:15 pm
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Meet and greet. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the European Union's Catherine Ashton earlier this year.

European Union/European External Action Service

Meet and greet. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the European Union's Catherine Ashton earlier this year.

Israeli scientists will be able to take part in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding program, which will launch in January, according to an agreement reached late last night. Israel’s government had threatened not to participate in the 7-year, €70 billion program because of a diplomatic flap with the European Union that flared up this summer. The conflict centers on E.U. guidelines, slated to take effect in January, that prohibit any E.U. funds from going to Israeli organizations or activities in the territories occupied after June 1967, including the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

Israel has participated in E.U. science funding programs since 1996 as an associated country. Being an associated country allows non-E.U. members to take part in funding programs; such countries contribute to the program’s budget based on their gross domestic product. Israeli scientists have been very successful at winning E.U. grants. The country paid €534 million into the Seventh Framework Programme, which spanned 2007 to 2013; in return, almost 1600 Israeli scientists will have received a total of €634 million in funding. (Horizon 2020 is the successor program to Framework 7.) Israeli scientists, as well as technology minister Jacob Perry, had argued that not participating in the program would be a significant blow to Israeli research. Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman had objected to signing an agreement with the guidelines in place.

The Israeli government held two Cabinet meetings on Monday to discuss the issue after the European Union rejected the country’s suggested compromises late last week. The agreement reached yesterday leaves the European Union’s guidelines in place, but allows Israel to append a statement to the agreement saying that it does not accept the guidelines. “Israel recorded its position of principle against the guidelines while accepting to participate in the E.U. program run by E.U. rules,” says Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign commissioner. “The negotiations were never about getting either side to subscribe to the other side's principled positions, but about defining practical ways to allow Israel's participation in an E.U. program governed by E.U. rules. This is what we succeeded to do,” she writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.

Some Israeli scientists had objected to the idea of signing a statement saying the funds would not be used in the occupied territories. But Kocijancic says that all Horizon 2020 participants—no matter what country they are from—have to sign a standard agreement that they will use the funds according to relevant E.U. rules. “There are no political connotations” to signing such an agreement, she says.

In practical terms, the guidelines will have little impact on most funding decisions. The only known Framework 7 projects that would not be eligible under the new guidelines were three that involved AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories, which has labs and a factory in Mitzpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement on the banks of the Dead Sea, about 10 kilometers inside the West Bank.

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