APS News

International News

George W. Handy

Global competition has placed a premium on growth in science and technology. This is particularly true in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), where the 10 leading countries* are growing at an average rate of 5.8% of GDP as opposed to a 1.8% rate for the 15 West European countries, called the EU 15. These 10 CEE countries have a tradition of intellectual achievement, and a recognition that sustained economic growth
requires improved capacity rather that simply relying on cheap labor. High technology growth has become a priority for these 10 CEE countries, and a basis for their increasing economic cooperation across the Euro-Atlantic community–and globally.

Central and Eastern European countries are particularly aware of American excellence in high technology growth. A number of current initiatives have been organized with an emphasis on sharing American success in innovation, commercialization and in attracting private investment. This is leading to increased CEE joint ventures in high technology with the US and other countries. More can be done.

For the past 13 years, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has offered a program that has addressed opportunities for high technology growth as one of a number of key areas for economic transformation, particularly for the countries of the Former Soviet Union. This program, the International Action Commissions Program, has completed 170 projects that have helped to introduce practical, near-term improvements in business and investment growth as a part of the transformation of these countries. The most recent of seven Action Commissions is the Euro-Atlantic Action Commission, and it focuses on the 10 leading CEE countries identified earlier in this paper. This Action Commission has undertaken projects on high technology growth based in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. This article draws specifically on these recent hands-on experiences.

On-going Action Commission projects with the Czech Republic and Hungary are stressing science and engineering excellence particularly in the area of physics. These projects have reaffirmed the importance to high technology growth in Central and Eastern Europe of capitalizing on the international nature of science, and of fostering cooperation among business, government, institutes and universities. Physics and other sciences have emphasized discipline and order as well as the application of ethics, judgment, and responsible application that are at the core of successful entrepreneurship.

Transatlantic business and other private sector organizations have worked together on recent projects of the Action Commission that have stressed the following:

  • Establishing a focus on technologies that reflect national priorities and the associated commitment of resources.
  • Participation in organizations like the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), which advances in such sound technology transfer practices as the protection of intellectual property rights.
  • Identification of high technology priorities and the establishment of workbench-level exchanges to define practical areas for actual cooperation.
  • Expanded university-to-university exchanges that include the development of joint research projects of probable interest to business and investors.
  • Encouragement of an entrepreneurial mindset that more efficiently manages the development and application of cutting- edge technologies.

Project activity is particularly linked to major associations such as the Association of University Technology Transfer Managers (AUTM). Joint ventures with the US for early stage research are increasing; for example, US Air Force research funding is permitting an exchange of possible applications of femtosecond lasers with a team from Budapest University of Technology and Economics. More advanced projects with US organizations are also prevalent. A joint US-Hungary venture, under the company Genetic Immunity, has an HIV/AIDS vaccine already in clinical trials.

At issue in building new joint ventures with the US is how to go about organizing a high technology venture that is likely to succeed. The following steps offer a framework for action:

  • Awareness that US scientific activity is flexible and horizontal rather than hierarchical.
  • Capitalizing on the fact that most US organizations identify their research priorities and view sciences as an international activity.
  • Making contact at workbench level that is focused on established priorities and is the first step in a new high technology venture.
  • Given practical grounds for cooperation, senior level agreement to commit resources to that joint venture is the next step.

New opportunities for high technology development with the leading countries of Central and Eastern Europe face lower risks and leverage a strong tradition of scientific excellence. This is an opportunity for the US government, businesses, universities and laboratories. In this period of transatlantic tensions, it may be that science and engineering cooperation in high technology ventures will become a valuable mechanism for restoring mutual trust and confidence more broadly across the Euro-Atlantic nations.

George W. Handy is Director of the Action Commissions Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

*Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.


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