scientific cooperation with Europe is in danger, as the government has yet to approve the transfer of NIS 700 million (about $185 million) a year to the European Union's Seventh Research Framework Program due to "budgetary difficulties."
For year, the program has allowed the Israeli industry and academia to participate in European research and win research grants, which only in the past five years totaled €20 billion ($26 billion). Terminating the project would be a death-blow to the academic-industrial research in Israel.
Andrew Standley, head of the delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel, hosted an event last weekend in honor the 361 Israeli recipients of more than NIS 600 million ($155 million) in research grants in the past year, as part of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Program.
During the event, EU officials said Israel must clarify as soon as possible whether it plans to pay for its participation in the new program, Horizon 2020, which begins next year and is valued at €80 billion ($105 billion). If Israel decides not to participate, it will not be able to return for the next seven years.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, Chief Scientist Avi Hasson and Marcel Shaton, general manager of the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate, all expressed their concern that Israel would be discharged from the European program due to its failure to transfer the participation fee.
"At this time of a global financial crisis, international cooperation is a way to create a competitive advantage and infiltrate relevant markets," stressed Hasson.
Scientists and company managers used even harsher words during the event. "There is always money for settlements, yeshivot and for dozens of ministerial positions, but not for research and development," said a senior official involved in the program.
According to Marcel Shaton, general manager of ISERD – the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate, since 2007 some 1,530 Israeli scientists and companies have been given the option to participate in projects valued at €2 billion ($2.6 billion), and the research grants given to Israeli recipients amounted to €570 million ($743 million).
"This sum reflects a 140% return on the payment Israel has transferred to the European Union so far in order to participate in the program," he said.
According to a government source, if Israel fails to transfer the money to the EU soon, its membership in the program for scientific-economic cooperation with Europe will be terminated.
The European envoy expressed his hope that "Israel, as an industrial research leader, will join the plan despite the difficulties and will continue to enjoy major research grants in the coming years."
The event honored the hundreds of projects Israel is participating in with the EU. The Migal - Galilee Technology Center, based in Kiryat Shmona, received the highest grant ever given to an Israeli organization by the EU – €4.4 million ($5.75 million) for the establishment of an excellence center promoting research about old age.
Thanks to the European support, the project will be able to take in a significant number of young Israeli researchers.