Barcelona renews until 2034 the scientific headquarters of the EU in the Mediterranean

In 2015, in the midst of the refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people desperately crossing the Mediterranean to escape persecution and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the European Union proposed the creation of a program to promote the talent and the economic fabric in the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
29 March 2024 Friday 17:04
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Barcelona renews until 2034 the scientific headquarters of the EU in the Mediterranean

In 2015, in the midst of the refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people desperately crossing the Mediterranean to escape persecution and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the European Union proposed the creation of a program to promote the talent and the economic fabric in the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean. In an unprecedented bet, a pioneering program of science diplomacy, Prima, was deployed to finance research and innovation projects linked to water and sustainable agriculture with a fundamental requirement: to be driven by at least one country from the northern basin and two from the southern basin of the Mediterranean. The headquarters of the program, for which Rome fought, was installed in Barcelona in 2018. In principle it was for seven years, but the city has just been renewed as its headquarters until 2034.

A team of 15 scientists and administrative staff from various countries, such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, France, Malta, Spain or Italy, work in the Prima offices – located in the Nexus building, in Parc UPC –. They draw up the calls for proposals (endowed with 70 million euros per year), evaluate the projects submitted, select them and monitor them. Since 2018, when the first call went out, 230 projects have been funded, with 352 million, in which 2,310 university research groups from 19 Mediterranean countries have participated.

Since it was launched, the objective of the program has been twofold. On the one hand, to facilitate collaboration in research between the Mediterranean nations and, on the other, to innovate and propose solutions on such relevant issues as the availability of water, sustainable agriculture and food production in a region, the Mediterranean, which is struggling against the impacts of climate change, rapid urbanization and population growth.

"The Mediterranean region is strategic in many ways, the problems generated by climate change impact first here and then in the north; and the problems are similar throughout the basin, for example, sea pollution or overfishing, and one country alone cannot solve them", says the director of Prima, Octavi Quintana Trías.

The uniqueness of the program is precisely its composition: eleven EU member countries (Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain) and eight more (Israel, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria , Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco). Only Albania, Serbia and Montenegro and Syria, Libya and Palestine would be missing to complete the Mediterranean arc.

The EU finances half of the program's global budget (474 ​​million) and the member countries, to a greater or lesser extent, contribute the other half. Thus, the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities contributes three million annually to finance the headquarters; while Italy, for example, contributes seven million every year.

The first call for Prima was formalized in 2018. The fact that the Union for the Mediterranean is based in Barcelona was decisive for this scientific diplomacy program to be established in the city. The first stage, of seven years, ended in 2024. Nevertheless, in December the extension of Prima was formalized until 2027, "and we have two million to deploy the program between 2028 and 2034", adds Quintana .

One of the objectives for the next stage is to promote projects that raise problems and solutions on a more global and transversal scale. "It is necessary to bet on innovation with an integrated and not so sectoral vision, if we are talking about optimizing the use of water in a specific crop, we must also address the impact of the crop on the territory, on health..." explains Quintana .Other future goals: to use supercomputing and encourage a greater financial involvement of the countries of the southern bank, "so that they are not partners, but also owners of the program", he adds.

Of the 230 projects financed, 40 have already finished and 190 are still underway. The annual call, of around 70 million euros, finances innovation proposals that last between three and four years and have a contribution of between 1 and 4.5 million euros. Thus, for example, Spain, France, Greece, Lebanon and Tunisia have jointly promoted a tool to optimize the use of fertilizers and water in crops; Germany, Morocco and Turkey have developed technology to desalinate water for irrigation; Turkey, Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Egypt have presented a system to highlight fishing in the Mediterranean and certify the origin of the product.