What does the future hold for the EUMEDCONNECT3 project?

18 December 2014

David West, EUMEDCONNECT3 Project Manager talks about the opportunities and challenges ahead

Between 2004 and 2011 the first two phases of the EU-funded EUMEDCONNECT project provided a dedicated Internet network for the research and education (R&E) communities across the southern rim of the Mediterranean. This was the first regional R&E project outside Europe funded by the EU and paved the way for similar projects in other world regions. EUMEDCONNECT successfully connected the national research and education networks (NRENs) of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia with each other and the European R&E community connected to GÉANT.

The collaboration has been especially strong with EUMEDCONNECT’s European partner countries also bordering the Mediterranean: Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and Spain. It has also provided a gateway for these Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries’ researchers and students to collaborate globally in many fields including tele-medicine, e-learning, big science, and environmental research and monitoring programmes.


The effects of the Arab Spring

The current phase, EUMEDCONNECT3, has been severely challenged by the events of the Arab Spring. The effects of the widespread political instability varied from country to country but, throughout the region, the NRENs have faced challenges as relationships with their governments, and particularly with funding ministries, have had to be re-booted. Sadly the specific situation of Syria currently rules out any participation in normal civil society actions in the foreseeable future. It also for a while put on hold Lebanon’s plans for developing an NREN and becoming a EUMEDCONNECT partner.

As a result, currently only Algeria is connected to EUMEDCONNECT3 with EC co-funding. While Egypt has managed to re-connect to Europe at its own cost, the NRENs of the other ENPI South countries currently have no international connectivity at all for R&E networking. Consequently, their user communities are deprived of opportunities for collaborating internationally and the digital divide between the two shores of the Mediterranean has been increasing again. 

Renewed support and interest

However, not all is doom and gloom, there are encouraging signs. With the exception of Syria, there is renewed interest amongst the beneficiary countries for R&E networking as new ministries are coming to understand the value for their scientific and higher education programmes and that high capacity connectivity is essential for participation in global research and education programmes.

These developments have been further accelerated and encouraged at a recent meeting of ICT ministers in the Mediterranean region and the EU supporting the development of the digital economy. This has concluded with explicit support for EUMEDCONNECT as a facilitator of international R&E collaborations and the need for further EU resource to be injected to enhance its further development (click here for further information).

Options for increased EU support for the southern and eastern Mediterranean are now being actively pursued, and for them to take effect from April 2015 to follow on directly from the current stage of EUMEDCONNECT. It is foreseen that detailed plans will be formed during the first quarter of 2015.

Last but not least, EUMEDCONNECT continues to count on the active support of ASREN. The Arab States Research and Education Network which was incubated by the EUMEDCONNECT2 project is a project partner in the current phase with the remit to provide long term sustainability and develop a pan-Arab regional network. Of the EUMEDCONNECT3 beneficiary countries Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine are now ASREN shareholders and the others are interested in joining. ASREN has recently started to establish its own e- Infrastructure supported by EUMEDCONNECT3. It has set up its first hub in London for EUMEDCONNECT and other Arab partner circuits, has just announced the first connection from Jordan to this London PoP, and is planning further hubs within the region. ASREN remains a strategic partner for EUMEDCONNECT across the Arab region and will play an important role in the plans being prepared for further R&E development for the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Commitment towards the Mediterranean partners

In conclusion, after a challenging period for the region I see renewed interest in R&E networking to support higher education and scientific programmes, renewed support from Europe for its Mediterranean neighbours, and a major opportunity for EUMEDCONNECT to facilitate regional R&E networking. Through EUMEDCONNECT my organisation has a long history of supporting the region. As DANTE we are proud of having brought EUMEDCONNECT into being; now merged with TERENA and re-named GÉANT Association we are committed to playing our part, alongside ASREN, for the next stage of this journey to support a pan-Arab regional research and education community, and foster cohesion in the region at a time of considerable instability.