The EU-CELAC Joint Research and Innovation Area: A living example of bi-regional cooperation driven by the EU-LAC Foundation

On 19 October 2021, the EU-LAC Foundation, in close collaboration with Mexico in its capacity as Pro-Tempore Presidency of CELAC, the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, and the Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean National Contact Point Network, brought together various science, technology and innovation actors from both regions in the framework of the EU-CELAC Joint Initiative on Research and Innovation (JIRI). The virtual workshop "Exchange on progress and opportunities for bi-regional cooperation in research and innovation - one year after the agreement on the EU-CELAC JIRI Strategic Roadmap 2021-2023" aimed to follow up on the actions around the four pillars (mobility of researchers, cooperation in research infrastructures, global challenges - particularly health, environmental aspects of sustainable development/green transition and digital transformation - and innovation) agreed at the Eighth Senior  Officials  Meeting on Science and Technology of the JIRI in October 2020.

Dr Adrián Bonilla, Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, opened the meeting by underlining the importance of science as a traditionally essential area in the link between the two regions. In this line, the JIRI is but the culmination of historic cooperation through the 2010, 2015 and 2016 Summits between the countries of the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean in science, research, innovation and technology. The EU-LAC International Foundation has set itself the objective of consolidating and articulating this effective cooperation through the creation of bi-regional spaces - such as this one - where the sharing of experiences, initiatives, programmes and instruments is guaranteed. In this way, this space for exchange seeks to dynamise and concretise the initiatives in each of the pillars so that the opportunities for scientific cooperation are effectively taken advantage of by the potential beneficiaries in both regions.

Claudia Romano, Coordinator of the National Contact Points Network for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Uruguayan Agency for International Cooperation, emphasised that the EU-CELAC strategic partnership is still in force and is constantly being renewed. However, asymmetries are still present; they exist both at the intra- and inter-regional levels. However, these asymmetries do not polarise but unite the two regions, which has led to the definition of joint objectives and clear actions. The EU-CELAC 2021-2023 Strategic Roadmap is a vivid example of this. While the four constituent pillars of this roadmap have shown a high level of development, they have also progressed in a heterogeneous manner. The challenge now is to identify good practices and successful strategic actions and to work on them with the political and technical will to continue advancing and working in a coordinated manner in order to reduce existing asymmetries.

In general, the pillar that has made the most progress is the research infrastructure pillar. This progress has made it possible to leverage and coordinate with existing scientific and academic networks. The active participation of more than 700 people from both regions in meetings and seminars on relevant topics such as health, technology and biotechnology has facilitated the technical exchange for the construction and concretisation of a joint EU-LAC agenda.

On the other hand, the mobility pillar, which aims to facilitate scientific and academic exchange between countries and areas of knowledge, as well as between different sectors of society, represents an opportunity for researchers and technical groups from both regions. Advances in programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ (mobility for higher education, people and researchers), initiatives in seminars and events in the EU-LAC region, as well as the presence of agencies such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, EURAXESS, Net4Mobility and Campus Iberoamérica have been key to facilitating exchange between the bi-regional higher education space. This has been consolidating European, Latin American and Caribbean networks.

Thirdly, under the global challenges pillar, meetings on health have been a central axis that has improved joint research and access to vaccines. In the environmental area, the possibility of working with other areas of the European Commission has opened up, although efforts still need to be made to link this area with other strategic programmes such as cybersecurity and renewable energy. Finally, in the innovation pillar, central issues such as intellectual property, open science and linking companies through the Enterprise Europe Network and the fundamental role of the European Network of Research and Innovation Centers and Hubs (ENRICH) project stand out.

The event was closed by the Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, Dr Adrián Bonilla, together with Dr Martín Penny (Head of Unit, International Cooperation of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission), Javier Dávila Torres (General Director of Cooperation Policy, Mexican Agency of International Development Cooperation) and Rogelio Granguillhome (Ambassador of Mexico to the Kingdom of Belgium and Luxembourg and Permanent Mission to the European Union). There was agreement on the successful fulfilment of the workshop's main objective.

The participants concluded that the workshop was useful to learn about the current status of the implementation of the roadmap and to make visible the challenges and opportunities that this agenda offers in the future. The usefulness of the meeting was underlined as a major impetus for a coordinated fight against global challenges and towards common goals. As the pandemic is growingly coming under control in various parts, it is becoming increasingly evident and urgent to take advantage of this turning point in order to continue to support and advance bi-regional cooperation in the field of science and innovation. Not only because of the existence of a strategic framework, defined priorities and widespread political support but also because the scientific transfer is key to progress towards inclusive and sustainable development.

Moreover, those present also underlined the essential role of the EU-LAC Foundation in bringing dynamism to the CELAC-EU association. In this partnership, a virtuous agenda towards bi-regional development - green, digital and inclusive - in which mobility, science, education, innovation and research are given high priority is evident.