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With fanfare in 2017, Mediterranean countries launched one of the biggest-ever efforts at science diplomacy: A €494 million project for north and south to collaborate on food, water and agriculture research. Three years later, it’s hitting financial and practical bumps.
Some research projects in the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA) have run into bureaucratic holdups in Italy, a monetary crisis in Lebanon, and the strict measures taken to contain COVID-19 in many countries. “Our major issue was—it still is—the delay in the release of the funds,” said one project coordinator, Daniele Bassi, a professor of agriculture at the University of Milan.
Programme leaders acknowledge the payment delays, but say the cause—the legal complexity of a multi-country project—was recently fixed, and Italian grantees like Bassi will get their money by the end of this year.
Certainly, no one talks of pulling the plug on PRIMA; it’s too diplomatically important. “There will be a very strong political support both from the 19 countries and the European Commission to go ahead with the initiative,” said Angelo Riccaboni, chair of PRIMA’s board of directors. “I’m sure we will find a solution.”
PRIMA is a major EU effort at science diplomacy—using research and development projects to try to build bridges across the Mediterranean, and thereby strengthen political relations. Technically, PRIMA is an intergovernmental partnership based in Barcelona and receives €220 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme. The rest of the money comes from 19 participating countries: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Germany and Luxembourg.