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ESF strengthens links with Central and Eastern European countries in social sciences

Helping 10 CEE countries engage in enlarged European Research Area, share their social sciences with 17 other countries and obtain their share of funding

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is helping the 10 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries play their full part in European science within the enlarged ERA (European Research Area). This is particularly challenging in the social sciences, which are more firmly rooted in national cultural traditions without the history of international collaboration common to the hard sciences such as physics and medical research.

However progress is being made within an ESF Member Organisations Forum called MOCEE (Member Organisations in Central and Eastern Europe), set up in 2006 to help the CEE countries participate in Europe wide research and obtain fair access to funds from EU sources such as the Framework Programme supporting the ERA, COST (COoperation in Scientific and Technical research, and ESF itself. "We aim to promote the scientific communities in these new EU Member States into the European mainstream," said Berry Bonenkamp, project officer of the MOCEE Forum.

This promotion is one of three key objectives that MOCEE is pursuing, and is officially known as the "catching up" strategy. But Bonenkamp insisted that the CEE countries do not so much have any catching up to do scientifically, but in terms of playing an equal part with their counterparts in Western Europe. "It is more about establishing a partnership between equals," said Bonenkamp.

CEE social sciences do though lack visibility in the west, and have failed so far to attract a fair share of funding. This led to the other two MOCEE objectives, to study the needs of the CEE countries, and promote dialogue between them and the other EU countries in the social sciences. One clearly identifiable need lies in navigating through the complex and sometimes tortuous process of obtaining funds from European sources. "We are planning a workshop on 'the art of grantsmanship' which means how to write a successful grant application, including the does and don'ts," said Bonenkamp.

The ESF is also helping the CEE countries improve their visibility by drawing on experience from countries such as Portugal that were in similar positions earlier in European history. "The long period of conservative dictatorship, from 1926 to 1974, affected the scientific arena in Portugal and particularly the social sciences, and can be compared with CEE countries under Soviet rule," said Bonenkamp.

One lesson of the Portuguese experience is that social scientists emerging from a country where cultural debate and dialogue have been suppressed first of all need to be encouraged to engage in international dialogue. There is a tendency, especially in the early days, for social scientists to be introspective and to focus on local problems, rather than facing out to the world, and within MOCEE workshops have been arranged to promote dialogue and also to engage with the research programmes already running within Europe. MOCEE staged a meeting of European social scientists in Bucharest in April 2007 to promote this dialogue and stimulate European-wide collaboration within the field.

Within working groups, participants were also invited to explain how the visibility of the CEE social science research community could be improved. In turn ESF is learning how to help CEE countries become involved more closely with their colleagues in Western Europe, leading to an enlarged and yet more diverse European social science research base.

The 10 CEE countries are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

Thomas Lau | alfa
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