MEPs come together to discuss key document in EU/Africa relations
Brussels, June 18-19, 2013: Members of the European Parliament have hailed a flagship science project as an "important step" towards forging ever-closer EU-Africa relations.
The aim of the ‘AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation´ is to define objectives and key actions for future African-European radio astronomy cooperation.
The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) is a stakeholder forum convened to define priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe.
It provides a framework for stakeholders from industry, science and academia to define research action plans across the wide range of technological areas that will be essential for the future of radio astronomy.
This framework intends to enable major research and technological advances that will drive socioeconomic development and competitiveness in both Africa and Europe.
Details of how the project will be implemented were presented for the first time in Brussels on 18 June to the European Parliament´s AERAP Group.
MEPs from across the political divide welcomed proposals outlined in the programme, saying they will help bring the benefits of science to citizens in both Europe and Africa.
Host of the event, Irish MEP Emer Costello, declared, "This is a very exciting project with enormous potential and it is important that Europe and the EU are at the heart of all this."
The Framework Programme defines in greater detail objectives for African-European radio astronomy cooperation in thematic priorities such as ICT, renewable energy and human capital development.
"This," added the deputy, "is a significant step towards developing closer EU/Africa relations."
Costello and other MEPs were speaking at a breakfast briefing in the European Parliament (hosted by Costello) ahead of a two-day Brussels workshop, organised by the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP), where the new Framework Programme for Cooperation was formally launched.
The event, which paves the way for implementation of the programme´s recommendations over the next 3-5 years, consisted of separate working sessions for each of the document´s thematic priorities.
It provided an opportunity for scientists, engineers and industry representatives to discuss the building of Europe/Africa partnerships.
The first implementation workshop was held in Brussels and a second similar event is planned to take place in Cape Town on 17 July.
The event, which concluded on 19 June, comprised sessions on:
* Research infrastructures
* Instrumentation, research and development
* Support for global projects
* Human Capital Development for radio astronomy
* ICT and Big Data
* Renewable energy for radio astronomy
* Astronomy as a tool for science education and
* Public outreach.
These project ideas include, for example, the development of precursor power plants to demonstrate the viability of solar power for radio astronomy.
The overall aim of the workshop was to start preparing for implementation of the key actions proposed in the Framework Programme and to explore the requirements of appropriate funding instruments.
One of the Programme´s proposals is a pilot training scheme for engineers and technicians to maintain and operate the telescope systems of the African VLBI network.
The Programme also aims to promote the use of e-tools for science education and develop innovative ways of teaching astronomy by means of e-science technologies.
The Framework Programme is the result of widespread consultation of European and African experts.
Emer Costello said that both the briefing and workshop had been an opportunity to update people from science, industry and academia on AERAP and SKA.
She said the framework programme had "huge potential for the future of Europe and Africa", adding, "I think we are on the brink of a breakthrough in answering some of the unanswered questions about life and the universe. This project, I believe, will do this and take science fiction a step closer to reality."
Daan du Toit, Minister Counsellor (Science and Technology) South African mission to the EU, agreed and praised parliament´s support for the project, adding, "We are committed to reciprocating this goodwill."
He added, "This project is all about scientific collaboration and excellence in science. It also provides an opportunity to leverage other social and economic benefits."
His comments were echoed by Anita Loots, of SKA South Africa, who said, "South Africans do not just want to be the recipients of telescopes on their soil - we want to be fully engaged in this."
Further comment came from Declan Kirrane, Managing Director of ISC Intelligence in Science which initiated AERAP, who said, "Radio astronomy can bring communities together and forge fantastic collaboration. The hope is that this project will make an important contribution to society."
The development of large-scale radio astronomy facilities is a powerful driver of socio-economic development in Africa.
In addition to producing ground-breaking science, radio astronomy is driving innovation in several technological fields.
AERAP is a stakeholder forum of representatives from industry, academia and the public sector. Established in May 2012, it aims to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Europe and Africa.
The initiative is the result of a European Parliament written declaration and calls by African Union leaders to promote radio astronomy as a priority for EU/Africa cooperation.
The workshop brought together industry representatives and scientists from major universities and research institutes in South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Details of "BIOSTIRLING 5 SKA", which aims to build and test a real-scale small solar plant demonstrator to feed prototypes, were outlined at the workshop.
BIOSTIRLING is an FP7 project, supported by project partners Gestamp and the Institute for Astrophysics of Andalusia, who were both represented at the Brussels event.
Juan Jose Zubeldia, from the project, explained, "The objective is to supply green energy to all the SKA projects."
The framework programme for cooperation has been greeted by MEPs from across the political spectrum, with British Liberal MEP Fiona Hall hailing it as "an important step" towards implementation of the written declaration´s objectives.
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The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP)
AERAP is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision “Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII”, for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa—EU cooperation. AERAP is a new stakeholder forum of industry, academia and the public sector established to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe. The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents. The platform will also enable effective dialogue to build a shared vision for international cooperation in radio astronomy.
Further information on AERAP: www.aerap.org
Biography- Emer Costello MEP
Emer Costello is a Labour Party MEP representing Dublin. A Member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, she sits on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, the Development Committee and is Chairperson of the Delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council. She is European Parliament Rapporteur on the Fund for European Aid for the Most Deprived (FEAD), a new Programme providing€2.5 billion for food aid and basic consumer goods for people living in poverty across the EU. She was formerly a Member of Dublin City Council from 2003 to 2012 where she served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2009/10 and as Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2008/9. She has served on a number of local and national boards in Ireland on a variety of issues covering community involvement, education, health, tourism and justice.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
The SKA is a global science and engineering project led by the SKA Organisation, a not-for-profit company with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth.
Further information on SKA: www.skatelescope.org
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