Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: Social Sciences and Humanities in Europe: New Challenges, New Opportunities, Conference on Social Sciences and Humanities - European Parliament

December 13, 2005

Brussels, 12 December 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this conference! I am overwhelmed that you have come to Brussels in such numbers. This alone is a signal of the importance of this event. We were not able to fit all of you into the main auditorium here – so let me explicitly extend my welcome to those of you who are watching in the side rooms.

The event which is starting today is unique. It is indeed the first time that the European Commission organises a conference focussing on social sciences and humanities themselves, rather than on subjects in which they traditionally contribute. It is the first time ever that the European Commission organise a so big gathering of social scientists and humanities researchers and give them the opportunity to have a two day dialogue. I hope you will enjoy it and make the maximum out of it.

Ten days ago, I participated in the “Descartes Research Prize” Ceremony in London. This Prize recognises outstanding scientific work carried out by a multinational team of researchers. The “Descartes Prize” was born in 2000, and for the 1st time in London, a team of social scientists was recognised with this European scientific honour. Led by Professor Jowell from City University London, the “European Social Survey” has developed a unique scientific methodology for mapping changes in social attitudes in 26 European countries, providing an authoritative source of EU data for academics and policy makers. This Prize is of course valuable for this specific project. However it is equally important for social sciences as a whole. Indeed, just five years ago, it would have been inconceivable for a major award to go to a team working in this field.

The fact that this award was given to social scientists is not a coincidence. This Prize rightly reflects the development that has been achieved in social sciences. It recognises the key importance of social sciences and humanities both as a scientific subject and as a main contributor in many social, economic and political issues.

Yes, social sciences and humanities have a lot to say.

It is well known that the top priority of the Barroso Commission is to promote growth, employment and competitiveness together with sustainability and high levels of economic and social cohesion. In this context, social sciences and humanities are called upon to support this strategy, not only in the short-term, but also in the medium and longer term.

It is clear that science and technology alone, will not deliver the Lisbon objectives. While science and technology open up options for the future, showing what can be achieved, they do not tell us what should be achieved or how it should be achieved. These are questions for decision-makers who, in order to formulate policies, have to turn to “soft” academic disciplines whose objective is the social scientific study of our societies.

The revised Lisbon Strategy, “the Growth and Jobs Partnership” as we name it, is a call for a joint effort on the part of the “hard” and “soft” sciences to contribute to the realisation of the Europe’s future. The “Lisbon agenda” has indeed been set in the context of significant problems and uncertainties confronting Europe. These include the economic, social and political impacts of globalisation, the ageing population and other demographic changes, the discussions over new modes of governance, environmental sustainability, and so on. In this evolving world, the study of the dynamics of societies through the perspectives of social sciences and humanities is a prerequisite for understanding social change and informing policy making in many domains.

You, as social scientists and humanities researchers, have definitively to be present. You have to make your voice heard!

Therefore the answer to the question "why social sciences and humanities?" is obvious for me. And it is with this in mind that we have included social sciences and humanities in our proposals for the 7th Framework Programme. I am pleased to report that the Council of Ministers, on 28 November, approved the Commission’s proposals with only the most minor of amendments.

Since the introduction of socio-economic research in FP4, the remit of Framework Programme involvement with social sciences and humanities has been consistently broadened. The recognition of the potential of social sciences and humanities in addressing a wide range of important issues means that a broad programme is required in FP7. Let me remind you its main components.

First, there is a dedicated theme for socio-economic research and the humanities, including foresight. This theme will cover well-known issues that deserve more and bolder research like growth, employment, governance, migration, the use of indicators, and foresight. But there are other totally new areas for research, like Europe in the world, lifestyles and families, views on European integration and so on.

Second, there will be research opportunities in all other thematic parts of the Framework Programme, for example in areas such as public health and social aspects of the Information Society, and public perceptions of nanotechnology. This is concrete recognition of the cross cutting and diverse nature of social sciences and humanities.

And third, there will be many other opportunities for socio-economic and humanities participation in other parts of the Framework Programme. In the mobility activities of course. In many areas like “science and society”, “infrastructures” and so on. Without also forgetting that the European Research Council will support frontier research in social sciences and the humanities.

So to recap:

We have first put in place a focussed, significant and well designed European research effort in social sciences and humanities (with a thematic priority);

Secondly, it is also important for you to strengthen further links with other thematic priorities;

Thirdly, it is equally important that you make the most of all the instruments available in the other parts of the 7th Framework Programme.

But rather than making a detailed description of all these opportunities for you, let me rather tell you what I expect from socio-economic and humanities research through the Framework Programme.

First of all, what is expected is that you actually realize that you must play an important role in the whole Framework Programme. As I said before, what is the value of a health or environment agenda without a deep reflection on its social, economic and political dimensions, its past and its potential impact on the future? In a recent report, EURAB has actually stressed this important fact again: all research should include a social sciences and humanities component. Putting this into practice is not an easy task. But it will not happen in a top-down manner. I rather believe that you, as social scientists, have to take that responsibility into your hands. That will be difficult for you as your utility will be challenged. But by not doing so, you will remain as you are, not even being accepted to discuss today’s important issues.

Another aspect looks crucial to me. Our FP theme is issue-oriented. It is not designed as a cake with neatly cut slices, one for economy, another one for political science, a third one for history and so on. The whole aim of the theme is to enable interdisciplinarity. Let us not take a simplistic view of interdisciplinarity. Of course, I do not ignore that there are institutional and even sometimes nearly ideological rigidities and apathies that prevent social scientists with different backgrounds to cooperate. Of course, interdisciplinarity is not always the solution. Of course, interdisciplinarity is not a mere encounter between representatives of various disciplines: it needs time, efforts to integrate foreign concepts and discuss them genuinely. But I am convinced that getting to know what other disciplines have to say on the subject is not only an intellectual obligation for all social scientists, it brings new ideas, new concepts, new metaphors that help social sciences develop. Should political scientists and sociologists ignore the research fields of economy, like innovation, or employment? Should economists and philosophers not be invited to debate political issues, like citizenship or governance? This is why we hope that researchers in humanities will be more involved in European research in order to enrich our views on all topics. This is why I also strongly encourage potential project leaders to include a foresight element in their research project.

But let’s move from the specific case of the Framework Programme, and let’s put social sciences and humanities in a broader picture. Nobody can deny the fact that research has now become one of the essential parts of “sustainable development” and one of the pillars of the Lisbon Strategy. Research and innovation drive growth and competitiveness. But they should also be used to increase opportunities for social inclusion and more intelligent use of resources. In this context social scientists and humanities researchers also have a lot to say!

Indeed one of the important contributions you make is related to policy making. Without the understanding offered by social sciences and humanities, policy decisions become difficult and their effects uncertain and less effective.

Finally, I also believe that European social scientists should be more daring, also when addressing public policies in contemporary issues. We have numerous researchers, of very good quality, but too much research remains confined to close circles. We have many publications but too much is “normal science” and not enough is bold enough to break new grounds and test new ideas. As I said earlier, interdisciplinarity, I hope, should help the development of stronger and bolder theories. Besides, it all happens as if most of the research output was to be kept under the eyes of scientists themselves. This is obvious, but to a certain degree. Should not we think that social sciences and humanities research should be debated more publicly? Intelligent devices are to be found to enable more of your scientific results to reach the public debate in areas like unemployment, economic policy, migration, citizenship, families and so on.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the Framework Programme cannot alone, and just because it exists, raise Europe to the position of a world scientific power. The Framework Programme is only a lever for progressive integration of efforts and for this to happen we need a change in our way of thinking. This concerns political leaders but also importantly industry and the scientific community itself!

You have a role to play. As time flies, your participation, your involvement and your activism have become all the more crucial. Since the very beginning of my mandate, one year ago, I have made a lot to put forward social sciences and humanities. My commitment has been and still is very sincere, since, as you know, I am an economist by training and background. So I have had the feeling to speak on behalf of my colleagues. Therefore we have proposed a 7th Framework Programme proposal which carries opportunities for the social sciences and humanities. And, as you probably know, we have also proposed an ambitious programme addressing key issues for Europe, as well as the means for better linking research and policy. However I’m afraid that the outcomes of the financial perspectives are getting darker and darker...

So far it is true that I have not heard a lot from you. I have met many people. My agenda is booked well in advance with hundreds of commitments and meetings. Industry, business and representatives of various scientific communities have knocked at my door.... very few of them coming from the social sciences and humanities fields to present ideas or even complaints (!!).

You need my support as much as I need yours! That’s why I’m encouraging you. It is only by joining our forces, energy and determination that we will be able to defend the social sciences and humanities interests and with that the interest of all society.

This is a message that I want this conference to begin with, and a message I want you all to take home with you. This conference should be a beginning to a long and fruitful collaboration.

I thank you for your attention and wish you a fruitful conference.

Item source: SPEECH/05/786 Date: 12/12/2005 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item Selection and Arrangement Copyright © 2005 Public Info Net Ltd.

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