• EC commissioner Carlos Moedas visits Israeli technology hubs
  • Moedas responsible for EC's Horizon 2020 research program

Carlos Moedas -- the man responsible for the European Commission’s 77 billion-euro ($83.9 billion) seven-year Horizon 2020 research program -- visited Israel last week, where he named health research as a particularly valuable area of Europe’s cooperation with Israel.

As European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Moedas’ visit introduced him to Weizmann Institute researcher Yifat Merbl, whose protein research is aimed at finding ways to deal with cancer. At Jerusalem Venture Partners, he heard about the technology incubator partnership between government and industry and met cyber security company ThetaRay as well as two other JVP companies.

The European program has helped fund many technologies, and in the health sector they include Technion professor Hossam Haick’s non-invasive and low-cost breast cancer diagnosis; medical R&D company MeMed’s technologies to improve antibiotics treatment; and Weizmann Institute professor Noam Sobel’s work in the field of neurobiology that enables paralyzed people to control machines or surf the web by sniffing with their nose.

"I see the relationship with Israel in the next 20 years getting to a higher level because the level of science is so high,” said Moedas, whose visit to Israel marked 20 years since the country’s entrance into the EU Research and Technological Development Framework Program (FP) -- a program within which Israel is one of only three associated non-European countries alongside Ukraine and Tunisia.

Moedas also visited the Palestinian Authority where researchers have so far won two grant agreements in the current Horizon 2020 program. The European research program includes the funding of research in which both Israelis and Palestinians participate along with other countries.

Strong partner

Early on in the game, Israel realized that it was important to have doctors, chemists and computer scientists work together to “trigger great science,” Moedas said. That, coupled with the fact that “in Israel no one is afraid of telling their boss he is wrong” makes it a country “extremely interesting for innovation.” And this, he said, “is something I want to see more of in Europe.”

Israel’s bottom-up, early interdisciplinary approach to innovation has made it a strong partner in Europe’s research programs, according to Moedas, who sees science not just changing the world but building bridges between people entrenched in bitter conflicts.

“Science diplomacy is something that is extremely important,” said Moedas. One instance, he said, is an accelerator in Amman that is sponsored in part by the EU, where Israeli, Iranian, Pakistani and Palestinian scientists sit together. “When they talk, they talk science and not about anything else and it is a way of building bridges.

"This is a major step for people from countries that don’t normally talk.”

The commissioner’s visit comes amid Israeli consternation over a European recommendation that member states label the origin of goods from Israel’s West Bank settlements, a move Israel is concerned will strengthen the pro-Palestinian groups who advocate economic, cultural and academic boycotts of the Jewish state.

“The European Union is against any kind of boycott,” said Moedas. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said the research cooperation between Israel and the EU led by Moedas “speaks louder than any labeling or boycott.”

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