Some people say that double standards is better than no standards, but in the case of Horizon 2020, I disagree.
Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s 80 Billion Euro flagship Research and Innovation program. It will fund and create hundreds of new groundbreaking advances in many fields including medicine, biochemistry, physics and social sciences. Its aims are to reduce and end the borders that limit cooperation across Europe and unite and enhance the full potential of the European research community; and Israel is now officially part of the framework. This is the good news; Israel’s participation is indicative of the Israeli research community’s reach, leadership and global respect.
The opportunity to participate in such a program to non EU member states is rare and considered a privilege and a show of respect for the country. Israel, as it has done continuously, has shown that its startup nation ethos will continue to improve and lead the world in multiple fields, and not least in the Horizon 2020 program.
However the path to the Horizon 2020 signature was not smooth, and in August 2013 it looked uncertain as to whether the EU and Israel would be able to sign the framework deal. The sticking point was the publication of a set of EU guidelines that called for a lack of any financial relationship between the EU and any Israeli settlement beyond the 1967 Green Line.
The negotiations between the two parties were long and drawn out and saw neither willing to compromise on their principles or positions. The end result reflected just such an outcome; the EU would sign the deal with the inclusion of the guidelines attached, whilst Israel would sign the deal with an attachment stating they do not accept the validity of the guidelines. Confusing and somewhat ambiguous yes, but the deal was done and the parties moved forward.
Agree or not with the position; the EU had taken their principles, applied them to their foreign policy and found a point of leverage by which to administer them. It wasn’t pretty to watch, nor was it smoothly handled, but the point remained the same; principles were turned into action. From the Israeli perspective, this was the bad.
Yet the story did not end there. The negotiations between the EU and Israel were widely publicized, picked up by all the major European, Israeli and international news outlets commenting left right and center about the negotiations and likely outcomes. Everyone wanted to be a fly in the room of the negotiation table, and everybody knew whenever someone so much as sneezed.
But what hasn’t been widely reported, acknowledged or even paid any attention to has been the sudden acceptance of Turkey into the Horizon 2020 program a week before Israel signed into it as well. As much as this may be beneficial for Israel in the long term, a few questions must be asked, and importantly, answered.
Firstly, in the past 12 months the EU has witnessed the Turkish leadership ban Twitter and Youtube in their country to try and minimize criticisms and free speech. EU commissioners and EEAS officials rightfully condemned the move and asked for its reversal.
The EU has also witnessed brutal and violent suppression of nonviolent protesters in Turkey calling for reforms and certain liberties to be guaranteed by its government; again the EU rightfully condemned this. As much as the social media access was restored, the number of deaths of protesters in the past 12 months continued to rise. As did the attempts by Turkish leader Erdogan to increase the authoritarian like reach of his office over the country.
Yet what we haven’t witnessed is the set of principles governing the EU’s relationship with Turkey being articulated into a set of guidelines that were then attached to the Horizon 2020 program. We haven’t witnessed any public pressure by the EU to condition the Turkish involvement into Horizon 2020 on any guarantee of basic human rights. Turkey’s involvement was not based on any promise to maintain a basic standard of freedom of speech and freedom to protest peacefully. Nor was participation even remotely linked to the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus.
Taking politics out of the equation, a uniformity of approach would be healthier and easier for the EU to produce. We know the situation with Israel is not the same and we are not looking for the same application of guidelines. Yet the question remains: if Israel was given such a publicly hard time for its policies relating to the West Bank, shouldn’t the EU treat Turkey in a similar way by ensuring that its policies relating to its own populations that are in opposition to EU values are reversed or at the very least suspended?