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Horizon 2020: the Turkish challenge

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Political relations between Europe and Turkey have never been easy and even in scientific research, often over the parts, the inclusion of the Turkish Government into international dynamics represented a special case. One example of this particularity is the fact that the final agreement that allows Turkey to be among the beneficiaries of Horizon 2020 was only signed in June. “Turkey is a much valued partner. Its dynamic business environment is a perfect test bed for the development of innovative products and services – making cooperation a win-win for researchers and enterprises on both sides," wrote the UE press release.

But what is exactly the Turkey’s potential within a project like Horizon 2020?  Actually, Turkey has been associated to EU research framework programmes since 2003 and, under the last European programme between 2007 and 2013, more than one thousand participations from Turkish public and private institutions in some 950 projects received almost €200 million in EU funding.

However, its current level of investment in R&D is less than 1 percent of GDP, below the EU average that is of 2 percent and the target it has set itself for 2023.

The element that attracted the European attention were probably the Turkish small and medium-sized enterprises. In an economic landscape as difficult as that of the last few years, they have been one of the hangers in the country, as well as in the whole European community, which for years invested its capital in Turkey.

Therefore, it seems that, once again, the field on which the game is played is the economic one and it is not a coincidence that today there are those who talk about the BRICS + T, thus including Turkey in the group of economically emerging countries, along with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

In this regard, ISPAT, the Turkish agency for the support and promotion of investment in Turkey, provides a very interesting overview about how the country is investing in key economic sectors. Particularly, in relation to the themes of Horizon 2020, it is important to consider the data in three areas: Information and communication technologies (ICT), Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals, and Energy and Renewables.


About ICT, Turkey’s ambitious vision until 2023, the centennial foundation of the republic, envisages grandiose goals, in order to become one of the top 10 countries in e-transformation. These goals include the increase of the number of companies to 5,500, of employees to 65,000 and of exports to USD 10 billion.

These predictions cannot fail to attract attention of the international community. In particular, the Turkish government has set itself the ambitious goal of reaching 30 million broadband subscribers and providing internet connection for 14 million houses at a speed of 1,000 Mbps. In terms of money, it means to increase the ICT sector’s size to USD 160 billion, with a market growth of around 15 percent each year.

Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals

The healthcare industry is transformed based on the demographics of a country as does a shadow with a body that produces it; thus, a rapidly growing young population is one of the key factors driving demand for the healthcare sector. In 2012, Turkey’s pharmaceutical market has been the sixth largest market in Europe and the 16th largest in the world in terms of sales. Furthermore, between 2012 and 2013, the healthcare industry and the pharmaceutical sector grew by 5.8 percent and 8.9 percent, value much higher than the European average.

In 2012, as reported by ISPAT, the social security system now covers approximately 99 percent of the total population with 75.2 million people covered, which is an increase of 29 percent from 2002, and Turkey intends to continue its relentless growth up to 2023. The health tourism is one of the engines of the economy, accounting for 20 billion USD by 2023. Moreover, as a result, healthcare spending per capita has been targeted to almost triple by 2023, reaching USD 2,000.

Energy and Renewables

Also from the energetic point of view, the aims of the Turkish government between now and 2023 are quite ambitious, especially in terms of renewable energy sources, which are abundant in Turkey. More in detail, one of the aims is in fact the increase of the share of renewables to 30 percent, through the maximization of the use of hydropower, the increase of wind power installed capacity to 20,000 MW, and the installation of power plants with 600 MW of 3,000 MW of geothermal and solar energy.

According to data reported by ISPAT, these predictions are justified. Turkey has become one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world, in parallel to its economic growth registered over the last ten years. In Turkey the power distribution is fully managed by the private sector, while the privatization of power generation assets is set to be completed within the next few years. Even in the field of nuclear energy, Turkey has set itself specific objectives: commissioning nuclear power plants, two of which are operational nuclear power plants, and a third is now under construction.

Therefore, from the economic point of view, Turkey is today a challenge, especially inside the country but at international level. A challenge that Europe, having agreed to include the Turkish government within the Horizon 2020, seems to have accepted.

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