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The European Commission, the governing body of the European Union (EU), has approved a high-level network to promote cooperation in science and technology between African and European scientists on projects of mutual interest and benefit.

The four-year initiative, CAAST-Net — Coordination and Advancement of sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science and Technology Cooperation Network — is supported by the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

FP7 is the EU's new funding strategy for research and international science and technology cooperation.

The network was developed with guidance from the Commission of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development's Office of Science and Technology.

The EU's FP7 has dedicated over €50 billion to funding research over the period 2007 to 2013. CAAST-Net falls within the existing funds, although its budget is still being negotiated. According to Andrew Cherry, CAAST-Net coordinator at the UK-based Association of Commonwealth Universities, the network hopes to have a fund of €3 million.

CAAST-Net is one of six INCO-NETs, EU instruments for bi-regional dialogue between the EU and specific geographical regions. The network, which is expected to launch next month (January), will provide a platform to identify specific research areas of mutual interest.  

Mmboneni Muofhe, manager of strategic partnerships in the South African government's Department of Science and Technology, said CAAST-Net offered opportunities for African researchers to be part of multinational projects.

Muofhe stressed that the South African government would not financially support EU research priorities that did not address the needs and priorities of the country.

"This is not about Africa riding on the EU wave but rather two continents and individual countries working together to resolve problems that affect us all," he said.

South Africa has already begun discussions with EU representatives about CAAST-Net activities. "We in South Africa appreciate the value of this initiative. Our challenge now is to get everyone familiar with the programme so researchers can make the most of the opportunities available to them," Muofhe said.

Wieland Gevers, executive officer of the Academy of Science of South Africa, said, "CAAST-Net is a good start but needs careful planning, trust on all sides and minimal bureaucracy."