CERN gets closer to the “quartier international”

Born under the auspices of UNESCO, raised in one of the world's most international cities, European by nature and global in attitude, CERN is well placed to catalyse the energies arising from the different international organisations in Geneva and beyond. A positive boost was given to the relations between them just a couple of years ago and it is now yielding fruits.


CERN has the concept laid down in its Convention: the Organization was founded to do fundamental science but its main goals include fostering education, peaceful collaboration and knowledge transfer to society. Hence, the large overlap with many other international organisations appears crystal clear. However, if you are in the Geneva region and you follow the “International Organisations” signposting, you do not end up at CERN… “Despite being in the same region and having several goals in common, until recently there was no structured framework for the relationships between CERN and the other international organisations, although one-off collaboration always existed,” says Maurizio Bona, advisor to the DG on relations with international organisations. “About two years ago CERN started proposing to some partner organisations a new structured approach based on the establishment of official bilateral agreements.” The proposal was very positively accepted, and the first cooperation agreement was established with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2010.

Other bilateral agreements followed the model set by the first one. “CERN has signed similar agreements with other Geneva-based international organisations, namely WIPO, WMO, WHO, UNITAR and UNOG,” says Maurizio. “Outside Geneva, the agreement with UNESCO that has been in place for almost 60 years is being revised to respond to the current needs of both organisations, and the one signed in 2008 with ITER is fully operational. Finally, CERN is also present in the Club Diplomatique de Genève, which is a key element of international Geneva.”

Although the framework is the same, each agreement has its own specificities, depending on the different nature of the partner organisation. Cooperation usually includes participation in important events organised by the partner institution, the implementation of joint projects and the exchange of information on best managerial and technical practices. The IT and knowledge transfer domains are particularly interesting to our partners, while CERN benefits from the support these organisations can give its actions to promote basic science and bring it to the international agenda. “By way of example, UNOG is interested in some CERN-developed software such as INVENIO, INDICO, EDH and our procurement system. Practically all our partner organisations are extremely interested in our know-how on data handling, data protection, computation, etc.,” explains Maurizio Bona. “We should not forget that on its premises CERN hosts the UNOSAT project, which uses CERN’s IT infrastructures and allows UNITAR to provide the UN system with imagery analysis and satellite solutions for humanitarian aid and development planning. Moreover, cooperation with UNESCO allows CERN to contribute to the scientific and technological growth of some developing countries via the CERN-UNESCO Teacher Training and Digital Libraries Schools.”

While CERN can bring some of its technological crowning points to the table, the partners bring their large international potential, which can translate into new opportunities for CERN. “Setting up an official cooperation framework is instrumental in ensuring long-lasting relationships that do not depend on the evolution of organisations’ internal structures. Having reached a “critical mass” of partner organisations, CERN’s strategy is now geared to consolidating and implementing the agreements concluded so far. However, the same model may be used to set up structured bilateral relationships with other international organisations according to the future needs of CERN,” concludes Maurizio Bona.

Even if CERN will never physically move to Geneva’s “quartier international”, the new tram is not the only thing that has made it possible to shorten the distances.

by Antonella Del Rosso