Brussels, 19 Apr 2004
At a recent conference on 'Science and Society in an enlarged European Union,' organised by the Slovenian parliament, representatives of the ten accession countries expressed concerns for EU science.
The conference was an occasion to review the scientific challenges and opportunities for countries which have a significantly different background than the existing member states.
'Slovenian science is achieving [at the standard of] the EU average based on some criteria, but the EU average is not very good,' said Botjan ek, president of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. 'There is something really wrong with European universities on the continent,' he added, referring to the fact that apart from the UK, there is no European presence in the world's top 20 universities.
Some of the key issues raised, however, are already common topics of discussion within the European Union.
'I am a little bit afraid that now in Europe we have too much stress on applied science,' said Jiri Niederle of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. 'I am looking forward to the establishment of a European Research Council, which I think will make the balance [between basic and applied research] more appropriate.'
Reflecting concerns about a brain drain from the new EU members, Zoltan Jan of the National Council of the Republic of Slovenia said: 'We may be afraid that Slovenia will become a training centre for people who will be working abroad and who will not contribute to the progress of their homeland.'
There was also widespread opinion among participants that EU research funding procedures are too bureaucratic.
Edvard Kobal, director of the Slovenian Science Foundation, ended the conference on a positive note, however. On the subject of brain drain he stated: 'We are optimistic. We have a small percentage of scientists who are sceptical, of course, but we have to work to change this.' He pointed to the existing cooperation Slovenian scientists enjoy with scientists in other EU countries, especially Austria, insisting that eventually the movement of talent may be in both directions.