LONDON (Feb. 23)
Israeli officials were jubilant this week after the European Union decided to include Israel in its latest research and development program.
Membership in the program will give Israel access to a fund of some $15 billion for research and development projects over the four-year life of the program. Israel is the only non-European state eligible for the E.U.’s fifth such program.
Israel will contribute $45 million annually, or a total of $180 million, for membership in what one Israeli diplomat described as “the most exclusive high- tech club in the world.”
Israeli officials are counting the E.U. decision as a particularly significant victory because some E.U. officials had repeatedly linked Israel’s participation in the program to its willingness to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
Israeli Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, who spearheaded Israel’s five-month campaign for inclusion in the program, described the E.U. decision as a “great achievement.”
He expressed satisfaction that “Israel’s economic strength and technological superiority have proved themselves in the field, and extraneous considerations, including political ones, did not succeed in sabotaging Israel’s joining the fifth program.”
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon hailed the decision as an “indication of the E.U.’s confidence in Israel’s scientific and technological capabilities.”
Israel’s participation was opposed, apparently for political reasons, by Britain, France and Belgium, but Israeli sources say this opposition faded when Belgium made a last-minute decision to withdraw its objections.
Israel’s participation in the lucrative program was among the main agenda items when delegates from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group for U.S. Jewish organizations, met with Belgian and E.U. officials in Brussels last week.