Bilateral Agreements | JPI OCEANS

Bilateral Agreements

Tackling societal challenges implies a regional/multilateral approach and this is reflected by the long experience of cooperation between member states, related to historical, geographical and economic matters. This cooperation has been mainly developed on a bilateral approach, whereby the geographic scope or operational area, the objectives and goals to achieve jointly are defined for the implementation of the activities.


The bilateral approach of cooperation, as developed within the Scientific and Technology (S&T) Agreements, is mainly adopted by the research funding/performing organizations (RFO/RPO). Though most of the objectives of the agreements can be considered as of common interest for more than two partners, the actions related to these S&T Bilateral Agreements are not synchronized and systematically interlinked.

When the implementation of some actions of JPI Oceans requires the involvement of the RPO/RFO, as highly probable, a multi-lateral and integrated approach is largely required. The networking between the bilateral agreements, decided at the highest level, can therefore largely increase the efficiency and avoid unnecessary duplications. The bilateral agreements are often very vague in the definition of the topics to be addressed. These are indeed defined successively and on a temporally cadence during the implementation phase. In practice, bilateral agreements can be considered as "limited" Research Alliances without a specific product to be delivered.

A possible intervention by JPI Oceans can be to start a dialogue within the bilateral agreements for common issues and promote the synchronization and coordination of their activities. The idea is not to burden with additional load for changing text or practice in existing bilateral agreements but to bring the actors involved in their implementation phase to define and manage the activities in order to create a virtual multi-lateral programme. The networking between the bilateral agreements can be considered as a first action towards the alignment of policies and programmes at the level of RFO/RPO. A proposal for the procedure to act in described in the table below.



Mapping the relevant organizations.


Mapping the bilateral agreements and their possible link with JPI Oceans' objectives.


Contacting the responsible persons for the implementation of the bilateral agreements for information gathering and availability of cooperation.


Analyzing the activities and procedures for the implementation (for feasibility of common or complementary issues and synchronized evaluation).


Defining specific topics to be proposed to bilateral agreements, the impacts and indicators for the process.


Sending a proposal for networking on specific topics to the legal responsible persons of the bilateral agreements, including the financial aspects for funding the bridging of activities and for the flowchart of information.


Management of information from the implementation of the activities.


If agreed, selection of panel of experts (accordingly to a standard procedure as in deliverable D2.3 or to be negotiated with the partners of the bilateral agreements)


If necessary, commitment of funds for bridging activities.


If agreed, common evaluation of projects

Secretariat/panel of experts

If agreed, workshop for networking activities.


Evaluation of results and process


Table 1: procedure for supporting the networking of bilateral agreements in order to avoid duplications and to create synergies though the adoption of common objectives, evaluation panels and supporting bridging activities between projects and participants independently funded at national level. The same procedure could be adopted to promote networking between ERANETS.

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Figure 4.3.1: Sketch of a procedure for JPI Oceans to support the networking between the bilateral agreements in order to avoid duplications and create synergies though the adoption of common objectives, evaluation panels and supporting bridging activities between projects and participants independently funded at national level.

As an example, starting from the fact that different RFO/RPO signed different agreements, the JPI Oceans shall map the relevant organizations, the bilateral agreements concluded and their possible links with the JPI's goals, as well as the availability to collaborate of these organizations. The parties of each agreement, following the usual practice, bilaterally define the type of cooperation and the activities they agree to implement. The JPI Oceans, after analyzing procedures of the agreement, can intervene in encouraging the exchange of information among different RFO/RPO, fostering the adoption of common or complementary issues, a common evaluation panel for the projects to be. If a common evaluation is agreed among the RFO/RPO, the risk of duplication of activities will be reduced.

JPI Oceans, with the purpose of creating synergies, can also recommend to add "reservoir" funds devoted to participating in networking events, workshops or meetings for sharing experiences and practices, and for connecting the activities the parties have planned to implement. On the basis of the procedure commonly agreed by the parties of each bilateral agreement, a number of projects is selected and funded by each RFO/RPO. In this case, the JPI Oceans' approach is to create connections among the projects on the same issue or topic, for instance in the figure, on "Coastal management". The JPI Oceans can act to encourage the flow and management of information among these projects and JPI Oceans itself, in order to capitalize the results of the projects themselves and the people involved.

Motivation and Initiation

European funding/performing organizations have so far set up numerous bilateral agreements, with other European RFO/RPO and non-EU countries. Despite that, in many EU countries bilateral cooperation represents a long lasting practice, its initiation and implementation rarely follow institutionalized and common procedures. Especially in terms of motivation for formalizing a new agreement and of circumstances driving for its stepping up. In terms of motivation, examples put into practice include common challenges, common vision and interests, political and strategic objectives, as well as the "collaborative" attitude of researchers, while in terms of circumstances examples are the stable and "historical" collaborations among countries and institutions, official and unofficial meetings between RFO/RPO representatives, conferences and seminars. The signature of the agreement is made by the presidents of both organizations, and it is made in both official languages of the organizations and in English.

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Despite the lack of institutionalized procedures for initiating a bilateral agreement, each research funding/performing organization usually follow a standardized internal procedure for concluding bilateral agreements and managing the foreseen actions. Some common features can be observed in many experiences.

Each RFO/RPO includes in its organizational structure a specific office in charge of international relations and/or cooperation, responsible for starting, formalizing and managing agreements with European and Non-European RFO/RPO, with a Director and several officers responsible for the agreements management.

The first contact or the initiative to start a collaboration is often made at the top level, with the RFO/RPO President encouraging new alliances or new fields of cooperation, usually following pre-defined interests and priorities. The priorities and the issues asking for a collaboration are defined at strategic level and at departments/units' level. The collaborations initiatives and the actions both parties agree to develop are frequently thematically restricted to research fields and issues of importance to both countries involved.

The following steps of the procedure are directly managed by the Office, communicating with the corresponding RFO/RPO by telephone, videoconference, email or during meeting organized in one of the Countries involved.

At first, the RFO/RPO taking the initiative and calling for a collaboration, usually submit a draft agreement (based on its own "format") to the other organization, as a basis for further discussions and adjustments. The definition of the means for collaborating, the actions to be implemented, the financial aspects, the timetable, etc. and the final draft of the agreement are jointly discussed and defined. In some cases, one organization acts as a leader in submitting the draft and the final proposal. The actions to be included are then defined on the basis of the available funding.

Bilateral Agreements' Structure

A sort of "common structure" is usually followed by each organization. It is possible to underline some common aspects that many bilateral agreements include.

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A first distinction could be made on the basis of the "level" of collaboration defined in the agreement. Sometimes the collaboration itself foresees different steps, starting from a lighter kind of cooperation to a deeper one.

The agreement starts with a preamble, introducing the parties involved and a general statement on the motivations for collaborating. This could be more detailed indicating previous agreements signed by the parties or a "long tradition of collaboration", and/or the common vision and interests.

This introduction is followed by the definition of the purpose of the agreement and of the specific actions and initiatives the parties agree to develop. Concerning the purpose, in general it focuses on the establishment, or in case of long standing collaboration, the development and strengthening of the existing collaboration by extending areas and forms of cooperation. In specifying the initiatives and the actions the parties agree to implement, the document can be more or less detailed. These can include: develop mutual understanding of projects in which the parties are involved; exchange information on scientific policies, strategies and activities; define projects on topic of common interest; promote joint cooperative actions; promote the scientific collaboration among researchers and their mobility; organize joint seminars, workshops and meetings; support joint scientific projects. New or recent agreements can foreseen to implement the actions following different levels of cooperation, starting from a general exchange of information on the scientific policy and activities of the parties, to move in a second phase to common research projects and exchange of researchers.

The agreement can specify the terms and modalities of collaboration, including the setting up of a specific bodies and committees. A recent agreement between the Italian CNR and French CNRS1introduced the establishment, by exchange of letters, of a Steering Committee, consisting of an equal number of members of each party. The joint body is in particular in charge of reviewing the ongoing cooperative actions, setting up the priority scientific fields of cooperation, setting the principles, rules and guidelines for the joint call for proposals, facilitating and monitoring the implementation of the Agreement and review the Intellectual Property issues.

In case of joint cooperation projects, the procedure includes the publication of a call by each party (usually through electronic system), by a jointly defined deadline, and the submission by partner research teams from both countries of joint research proposals, to their respective organization. The rule of independent evaluation by each party, followed by a joint decision applies.

The agreement specifies, in general terms or in details, the funding provisions, in some cases indicating in the agreement the hole amount of funds provided by each party. As general statement, in bilateral agreements each party covers the costs of the participants from its own country and laboratories, while in joint research activities research expenses (excluding the mobility of researchers) are paid by the organization where the research is carried out. The expenses usually covered for mobility of researchers are the travel costs, daily allowance and accommodation, while are typically up the hosting Country the logistic expenses for organizing seminars and workshops.

The financial contribution of each party is defined and agreed usually on a yearly or bi-annual base, while the details of reimbursement can be further specified in the agreement or in its addendum, when foreseen.

Rules for regulating Intellectual Property Rights, when applicable, and confidentiality are usually included.

Finally, provisions regulating the agreement validity, amendment and duration terminates the agreement. Bilateral agreement foreseen a limited duration, usually of two, tree years, and are open to further renewal, tacit or explicit.

As previously mentioned some agreements are more concise while other define in much more details the specific aspects of the collaboration, the procedures for implementing it and the financial rules. Among the latter, some bilateral agreements are complemented by an addendum. This document can include information on the timetable of the announcements for joint research projects, the criteria for selecting the projects, the procedure of scientists exchange and the definition of the financial treatment of researchers.

This is defining the "operational level" which should be synchronized and aligned with those of other agreements.

Agreements' Implementation

The implementation of the actions included in the agreement is defined in general term in the agreement and can be further detailed in the addendum, in particular regarding the financial aspects, the publication of the call for proposals and its timetable, the procedure for evaluating and funding research projects.

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Joint research projects and the exchange of researchers are implemented through the publication of specific call for proposals. The timing and the amount of funding dedicated to each call depend on the content of the collaboration agreement.

The publication and the management of the call is handled by the Office responsible for the bilateral agreements. The period and the date of the call publication is jointly defined and agreed by the parties, and is usually simultaneous, especially for the deadline for submitting the candidatures. Some addendum indicate the maximum number of projects to be supported, the month/months during which the call has to be published by the parties, how often (every year, every two/three years etc.), the starting date for financed projects.

The procedure for receiving and managing the proposals normally foreseen that each party is responsible for announcing and publishing the call for proposals and for gathering all the application from their respective sides. Researchers from both countries must submit simultaneously joint research proposals to their respective organization. The proposals are evaluated separately by the respective scientific committees, one per country, which members are defined on a case by case depending on internal rules and the specific issues covered in the proposals submitted. Following the ranking list formed by each scientific committee and by exchanging these prioritized lists of projects, both countries jointly decide and agree on which proposals are to be funded. Each party communicate the results to respective researcher independently, while the complete list of joint research projects mutually approved become then an annex to the cooperation agreement. Each organization defines its own evaluation scores (numerical, alphabetic, etc.) and thresholds. The criteria for selecting the proposals can be in general defined in the agreement or in the addendum and follow the principle of scientific quality of the research. Additional criteria are the intensity of mobility of researchers, the added value of the cooperation, the expected results and impacts.

As previously mentioned, for successful projects, each country is responsible for funding its own researchers.

The abovementioned Office is finally in charge for transfer of the agreed funds to the researchers, and for receiving and checking the researchers financial reporting and relations.

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  • Bilateral agreement Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) and CONSEJO NACIONAL DE INVESTIGACIONES CIENTÍFICAS Y TÉCNICAS (CONICET)
  • Bilateral agreement between Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR)
  • Bilateral agreement between Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)
  • Bilateral research cooperation between Swiss Confederation and Japan

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