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A week after Australian newspapers ran reports based on leaked information that South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array is favoured over a rival bid from Australia and New Zealand, comes ratification of an EU agreement to partner with African countries on radio astronomy.

The adoption by the European Parliament yesterday of Science Capacity Building in Africa: promoting European-African radio astronomy partnerships doesn’t mention the Square Kilometre Array, but the timing could be seen as significant given that a final decision on who will host the $2.7 billion radio telescope project is just weeks away. Here is the declaration in full:

The European Parliament,

— having regard to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, which aims at strengthening science and technology cooperation between the EU and Africa,

— having regard to the Millennium Development Goals, which identify the essential role of science and technology for socio-economic transformation,

— having regard to Rule 123 of its Rules of Procedure,

A. recognising the value of research infrastructures in facilitating cooperation with Africa, promoting human capital development and addressing societal challenges, as noted in the
Innovation Union and Europe 2020 Strategy,

B. acknowledging Africa’s unique competitive advantage in the study of radio astronomy, reflected in the extensive existing radio astronomy projects located in Africa (PAPER, VLBI network, MeerKAT, etc.),

C. recognising that further European involvement in African radio astronomy can become a powerful driver of socioeconomic growth in Africa and create a new range of market
opportunities for both continents,

1. Urges the Commission, Council and the parliaments of the Member States to:

(a) support the development of science capacity in Africa through greater investment in research infrastructures, with particular focus on radio astronomy projects,

(b) promote the science of radio astronomy and the innovation and research potential of radio astronomy initiatives in future Africa-EU partnerships,

(c) mobilise EU funding mechanisms, including the Framework Programmes and the

Development Cooperation Instrument, to support these objectives;

2. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission, the Council and the parliaments of the Member States.

Given that three of the four countries (United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy and China) that form the panel that will decide the location of the SKA, are EU member states, the declaration is all the more significant.

Despite indignation from South Africa this week over suggestions that politics and social development aspirations and not just technical details will play a role in deciding the host of the SKA, the declaration also highlights the importance of social development as a priority in the EU working with Africa – ie: “recognising the value of research infrastructures in facilitating cooperation with Africa, promoting human capital development and addressing societal challenges, as noted in the Innovation Union and Europe 2020 Strategy”.

A final decision on the SKA host country is expected to be announced on April 4.

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