Director for Industrial Technologies in the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Department visited Tehran heading an academic commission to attend a scientific and technological working group between Iran and the EU. He finds lack of awareness on both sides as a barrier in the way of expanding scientific and educational activities between the I. R. Iran and the EU. With an annual budget of €600mn and a team of 130, Mr. Droell tries to open new doors in scientific and educational relations between Iran and the EU. On this visit, we had a chance to have an interview with him which is as follows.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Dr. Peter Droell,
Director for Industrial Technologies in the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Department
What does the department for General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission mostly do? What is its realm of operation? What parameters are considered when it comes to the activities on innovation analysis, benchmarking and demand side measures?
Thank you for asking that question. Our core business is investment; investment in industrial technologies. We are investing in the new things, what we consider as key enabling technologies. That is about production and automatization advanced materials, Nano technology and energy efficiency. So our project is to create new industrial production and wealth. In addition to the investment which is the biggest part, we also aim to improve the overall framework for innovators and industries to invest and operate in Europe. For this, we have policies and place for investment for what we call capital market union. So free movement of capital is very important for the current trend of digitalization for industry. The same is true for energy efficiency, as energy cost are a big part of production cost. My department contributes also to the implementation of these policies.
You were formerly in charge of coordination of the environment negotiations with all accession countries. How important is the concept of environment for the EU?
The protection of our environment is very important for the EU. It is part of our values. Too often the environment and protecting it has been seen as opposite to industrial developments. We have now really achieved to de-couple economic development and resources and pollutions but the challenges are still considerable. Let me just quote climate change and reaching our ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is of fundamental importance for the EU. I’ve mentioned earlier on advanced manufacturing and advanced materials. These are key technologies for environmental protection. So there is a direct link between what we do and the better use of resources for production. A very important and a new concept that we have defined is the circular economy. That is reducing waste and ensuring that we used the viable resources at the best possible rate. That is also part of the objectives we pursue with the EU investments I am responsible for.
Who of the Iranian officials have you and your accompanying delegation held meetings and negotiations with? What agreements have these meets brought about?
I had various meetings with members of the Iranian government hosted by Dr. Amoli. I would like to underline how trustful this cooperation and our meetings have been. We had the second meeting of Iranian-EU working group on science and technology cooperation. It was the first time this group met in Iran. We met last autumn in Brussels. Yesterday was a follow up to that and we had a very clear mandate from our side and also from the Iranian side. Our mandate is to go to the second stage of cooperation between the EU and Iran on science, technology and innovation. The second stage would be about stronger cooperation. We had already a very good team as regard with mobility. If we look our last years, we had 400 Iranian researchers working in the EU. Right now at this moment they are 600. But we have already had exchanges of six hundred and eleven. That’s a very strong basis and what I could see here in all of contact at universities and government officials is very high commitment in science and technologies and also the vice president that I saw yesterday is a very strong soul and commitment to international cooperation. Our program called Horizon 2020 for investment in research and innovation is opened to the world. So what we want to do is research with the best and there are many good brains among people here in Iran. What we agreed very concretely is to inform our Iranian colleagues what is coming next as our investment opportunities in Europe and how to do the process and how to be successful in getting EU funding. We had a very interesting session this morning about what to do and then what not to do. And I’m really optimistic that we can achieve more cooperation and this what I am also committed to. I can give you one very concrete example. We share a common challenge relating to climate change and the environment and that is gas flaring. Gas flaring is a waste of resources. Iran is rich in gas resources. And I will propose in our next investment package, which will be publically known in autumn, that we do a specific action on how to replace gas flaring by making, with high tech, the waste gas a valuable source. I hope that there would be interest from Iranian researches to participate in that action. That would be the first example of a collaborative research project in the field of industrial technologies.
Based on what criteria the ones who accompanied you were arranged?
There is a strong delegation of 20 universities and they were selected on the basis of an open call for expression of interest issued by our network of the EU agencies which makes the link with our member states. Those who applied had been screened and selected on the basis of this call. I think that’s very good because we are sure that those people who are here came with very concrete agenda. As I spoke to them, they have already had early contacts with Iran but they also want to go to the next step.
Based on what agreements has the list of the EU and Iranian universities that can cooperate with one another been arranged and finalized?
We have ended the sanctions. So in principle, any university is welcome and our program is open to them. The only exception are indeed the listed universities. I am very happy that in our discussion yesterday with the minister, we could agree on the steps which are very important to go to the second phase of our cooperation. So the message is: the cooperation is open.
Hossein Salar Amoli, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Science broke the news about opening a Center for European Studies at the University of Tehran. Has your current visit focused at any level on supporting the operation of this center?
I had the occasion to discuss this with the minister. For me this is a very welcome sign of Iranian’s interest in cooperating stronger with us on our programs. It is the best practice, many member states do that as well. So we offered and shared the best practice and how to do that. For me this is a very significant step because it symbolizes the importance that Iran attaches to the EU and our cooperation.
What legal procedures should be accomplished as to open the Iran-EU Office of Scientific and Technological Cooperation in Brussels?
This is entirely according to the Belgian law where the EU headquarter is based. The usual way of doing it is by a legal form of non-profit organization but that is up to Iran to find procedures. There are many offices in Belgium. So I wouldn’t expect any difficulties. It’s not a government official diplomatic representation. It’s something very operational and so no big procedure.
What challenges should be solved on both sides in order to make possible the development and extension of scientific and educational activities and collaborations between I.R. Iran and the EU countries?
I think the biggest barrier and challenge is awareness. That was also what we agreed on with the minister’s deputy, Mr. Amoli that our task is to raise the level of awareness on both sides. This is why the event today and tomorrow is so important because we can give very hands on information about our investment parties and how it works. Here we can listen to our Iranian colleagues what expertise we need; what works and what does not work. So the biggest challenge is awareness. That includes awareness about the openness of our program. I think after the period we have gone through, this is very important and for me the key message we passed here because Iran and the EU have agreed to cooperate on a couple of areas; economic, environmental, energy and science and research. Making this is our agenda and implementing this agenda will bring more awareness. Other challenges related to competitiveness of our funding and I would like to be very clear about that: We are very open and we want to do fund only the best and do research and innovation the best. That means only a small percentage of proposals would be funded.
It has been pointed out many times that the sanctions against Iran stand in the way of scholastic and educational relations between Iran and the EU. Do you think these sanctions still exist?
Well the sanctions are lifted from our side. There are very few exceptions. There are two universities for which cooperation currently is not open and that the part of remaining task we have to solve in order to clarify that it is sure that cooperation remains exclusively focused on civil use. Let me be clear and say this is also coming out for all my contacts here that sanctions are over and cooperation is open.
You are a lawyer. You have Ph.D. in law. Your major is different from your job. Doesn’t it make a problem?
You don’t have to be a scientist to be the science minister. My job is to manage, to prioritize and to ensure the best possible implementations. I still use part of my legal training and it helps but I think in every education it’s very important to have the sound education and transfer the skills within your profession career.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Yes. I would like to express my admiration for the scientific quality I have seen here. For instance in medical research it is amazing. Also in Nano technology, I am looking forward to meeting the initiatives in Nano technology. So I think the areas of usually benefiting cooperation are wide.