The determinatioN of the EU to strengthen its cooperation with Taiwan has never been as perceptible as these recent years. Indeed, aside from the fact that 18 EU member states have representative offices in Taipei despite the absence of diplomatic ties, the EU established a European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei in 2003 and an EU Center in 2009. Last month, the EU also included Taiwan on its Schengen visa-free list, a move considered by Taiwanese authorities as a “vote of confidence” from the union.
This confidence has also been expressed by the European Commission in the research area through its call for a larger participation of Taiwan in its 7th Framework Program for Research (FP7), regarded as the EU’s main instrument for funding research with a budget of more than 50 billion euros (US$67.8 billion) covering a period from 2007 to 2013.
To strengthen Taiwan’s involvement in the FP7, the European Commission and the National Science Council launched a Taiwan-National Contact Point (NCP) in September 2008 and a network of eight thematic NCPs — health, food and biotechnology, information and communication technologies (ICT), nanotechnology, energy, environment, humanities and security — last month to promote the FP7 locally and facilitate the participation of Taiwanese researchers in the international consortium built to respond to the EU research projects’ call.
Last year, Taiwan participated in 17 FP7 projects, notably in ICT, environment and health. In health, Taiwan was involved in projects on pandemic influenza, hospital safety and neglected virus. Besides the daily devotion of the Taiwanese NCPs and the fact that they are still in a learning process, there is more room for Taiwan’s participation considering the quality of its research. In comparison, South Korea has joined 32 FP7 projects and Japan 38, not to mention China’s involvement in 160 FP7 projects.
Expanding Taiwanese participation in EU projects also depends on Taiwanese researchers’ motivation to join the international consortium created to respond to FP7 calls for research proposals. In health research, for example, the incentives to join EU projects are manifest.
First, the EU offers a unique opportunity to join large-scale multilateral research partnership with all the benefits that consequent budget have in terms of health research capacities and that different research cultures bring in terms of innovation.
Second, while most Taiwanese health researchers look to the US or Japan for external funding, working with European researchers represents a “niche” for the most audacious of the young researchers and a crucial extension of the research network for the most experienced scientists. Besides, diversifying their financial resources is a guarantee of sustainability and quality.
Finally, Taiwanese and Europeans scientists share numerous health research interests, which make partnership between them indispensable to improve global health.
All these reasons are also valid for other areas covered by the FP7. Taiwanese researchers are considered valuable partners by European scientists and the EU is very supportive of their involvement in FP7 projects. Taiwanese scientists shouldn’t miss this opportunity because — to paraphrase well-known German writer, J.W Goethe — great researchers are “the ones who seize the moment.”