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Italy, Israel seek to boost tech, environment ties

Italy, Israel seek to boost tech, environment ties
TEL AVIV - Italy\'s Ministry of Environment said it will provide 1.5 million euros ($1.5 million) to finance joint Italian-Israeli environmental projects as part of an effort to boost cooperation between the two countries.
The ministry\'s initiative, announced at a conference in Tel Aviv that ended this week, is an addition to funding recently approved by the Italian parliament aimed at fostering high-tech research and development cooperation. Under that plan, grants of up to 50 percent of the cost of R&D projects to a maximum of 1 million euros a year will be awarded for joint ventures. The two-day environmental conference, sponsored by Tel Aviv University and the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, attracted a delegation of 40 Italian businessmen, academics and officials, including executives from companies such as multi-utility Enel . Israel has had difficulty in attracting foreign businessmen and academics to take part in local conferences since the outbreak of a bloody Palestinian uprising two years ago. Alessandro Cattaneo, head of the economic and commercial office at the Italian Embassy, said he encountered a certain reluctance on the part of some to come to Israel but added: \"We were able to convince people to come. \"We say this is the time to come to Israel. When the situation is better, every business will find it easy to come and we want to be the first,\" he told reporters. Ronni Benatoff, head of Syntek Capital Israel, part of the 400 million euro pan-European venture capital fund Syntek Capital Group, said support from the government of Silvio Berlusconi was helping the effort to boost technological cooperation between the two countries. Benatoff is also head of the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce. Aldo Iacomelli, the Italian Environment Ministry\'s Mediterranean director, said his ministry\'s funding will be for feasibility studies or pilot projects in the areas of renewable energy, water and sustainable agriculture. An agreement between the two countries is expected to be signed by year end. \"We will look at ways to get more funds from sources like the World Bank or European Union,\" he said, adding that private sector investment would also be needed to turn the pilot projects into viable enterprises. The Italian Environment Ministry already has similar programmes in China, the Balkans, Morocco and Algeria and is looking to do similar projects in Egypt, Cyprus and Malta. Story by Tova Cohen REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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