Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: To build a future where European scientists can reach their full potential - BergamoScienza: Bergamo science week

September 26, 2005

Bergamo – 24 September 2005

BergamoScienza: Bergamo science week
Bergamo – 24 September 2005

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would first like to say “thank you” to the organisers of BergamoScienza for inviting me here today. Special thanks go in particular to Ms Locatelli, our moderator today. Through her outstanding work in the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg, she has done a lot to promote Europe and European Science. I also would like to acknowledge the presence of another distinguished Member of the European Parliament, Professor Giovanni Berlinguer and his contribution to the cause of advancing the Italian research endeavours.

I saw in the BergamoScienza programme a section called “Conferenze a colori”. I hope that my speech will also be “a colori”. Like you, I firmly believe that research is an activity which offers great potential for fun and excitement.

I am convinced that your various events will demonstrate this to the public and will also help them to recognise the importance of the role that researchers play in today’s Europe.

The challenge

Never before has the daily life of human beings been so much influenced by science and scientific techniques. Every day we experience the many positive effects of science through everything from improved comfort, to easier access to knowledge, to an increase in average life expectancy. At the same time, the challenge has never been bigger: innovation generates around 50% of economic growth and those who fail to follow the rhythm of innovation and competitiveness will run the risk of falling far behind.

The challenge that Europe currently faces is therefore that of renewing the basis of its innovation and competitiveness.

Innovation and competitiveness can be improved by building sustainable leadership in three crucially interlinked ways. We must definitively become better at:

  • Producing knowledge through research;
  • Diffusing knowledge through education; and,
  • Using and applying knowledge through innovation.
Importance of research and researchers

We are all here today because we share the common conviction that research is at the heart of the development of our society, a society in which scientists have a major role to play.

I know that many scientists and researchers are participating in BergamoScienza. They have come to explain their research and to communicate to young people that being a scientist can be a wonderful career.

This is why events such as BergamoScienza are so important for achieving our objectives. Our primary need is for more well-trained researchers in the European Union.

Although more researchers graduate in Europe than in its main competitors, today’s level of around 6 researchers in every 1000 members of the workforce means that Europe actually employs fewer than its major rivals, where the figure is 9 in the US and 10 in Japan.

At least two factors can explain this apparent paradox:

  • Many university graduates consider that there are greater financial incentives to work in a business environment rather than in research;
  • There is a strong tendency for researchers to move abroad, and in particular to the United States. Researchers are also reluctant to return back to Europe in the absence of more attractive research opportunities.
So what must we do?

At Community level, at Member State level and at the level of universities and research organisations, we need to find ways to strengthen Europe’s human potential in research and development.

I think that we can identify three major objectives:

  • Increase European research investment in order to reach the levels attained by our main competitors;
  • Enhance public recognition of the researchers’ role and contribution to society and to citizens’ welfare, thus attracting more young people, and particularly women, to enter the research profession;
  • Create the conditions that persuade European researchers to stay in Europe and in the research field, or at least to return to Europe.
Increasing investment

Regarding the first objective, I would like to refer to figures that many of you will be familiar with but which are worth remembering when speaking about research: investment in research at European level currently represents 1.9% of GDP, compared with 2.6% in the United States and 3.2% in Japan.

Europe’s objective is to have 3% of the GDP invested in research. The Commission is working hard to make this objective come true. And nearly all Member States have set national targets regarding research investment. However, much remains to be done, as the situation is very different from one Member State to another.

Public recognition of researchers

Turning to the second objective and the need to enhance public recognition of the researchers’ role in society, the Commission has underlined the need for major campaigns and events to increase awareness.

In this spirit, the Commission launched the “Researchers in Europe 2005 initiative” in June this year. This campaign will last until November and will mobilise hundreds of operators from universities, public national and regional authorities, research centres, and associations, as well as individual researchers from all over Europe.

In addition to this type of initiatives, the success of our “Science and Society programme” shows that we are addressing the genuine needs both of society and scientists.

With this long-term programme, we are not only supporting science festivals and interactive exhibitions throughout Europe, but also innovative scientific education, research on ethics, and media training for scientists among other things.

In short, all kinds of activities which allow people to understand what science is about while encouraging researchers to leave their laboratories and speak with the public at large.

Let me give you a couple of concrete examples of actions that we have done to increase the standing of researchers in our society and thus make it more attractive for young people to enter into research careers.

Every year we organize the Descartes prizes. These prizes reward outstanding research efforts at European level and, almost as important, exemplary communication on European research. Of course, the prizes are important for the individual researchers because of the recognition and the monetary aspects; but above all, because they help us in our endeavours to identify and promote models that others can aspire to.

Let me give you another example: at the beginning of this week, more than 120 young scientists – under 20 years old – from 35 countries gathered in Moscow to compete in the 17th European Union Contest for Young Scientists. The winners were called forward in a thrilling award ceremony. These young scientists all show great potential. We hope that many of them will go on to become outstanding and world renown scientists; who knows, they might come up with the next “disruptive technology” that will solve many of our societal and economic problems or create a quantum leap in our quest for a better world.

I would also like to mention our “Communicating European Research” conference, which will bring together 3000 participants in Brussels in mid November. High level scientists and communication professionals will discuss the various ways research can be communicated and will debate how they can improve the way they work together.

The BergamoScienza event is an excellent example of what science and society dialogue is about, and I know how much you are convinced by the kind of efforts we are making on this issue.

The experience we have with this “Science and Society” programme encourages us to think that combined efforts from all parts of Europe, added to a massive public participation in these events, is the right way to help the general public to become more aware of what researchers do, not only in terms of competitiveness and economic growth, but also in terms of their positive and effective contribution in our daily life and welfare.

This brings me to the third objective: the need to develop an integrated strategy for human resources in science and research.

In the last few years the European Commission has, in close cooperation with the Member States, undertaken a range of specific measures to encourage researchers’ mobility.

Further to the “pure” Marie Curie actions which are the main Community instrument to finance mobility throughout Europe and the international research scene, I would like to mention a number of specific achievements:

  • Firstly, the setting up of the European network of mobility centres, composed of 200 centres throughout Europe. These centres provide researchers and their families with the information needed to make their mobility experience a success.
  • In the same context, the setting up of the European and national Researchers’ Mobility Portals ( national mobility portals are now online!) aims to help researchers to identify training and job opportunities throughout Europe.
  • At the same time, the package of instruments known as the "Researchers' visa" which facilitates the entry of researchers from outside Europe is currently being adopted.
  • And last, but by no means least, we have the Recommendation on the “European Charter for Researchers” and on the “Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers”, which constitutes another important target in our joint efforts towards developing and implementing an integrated European strategy concerning human resources in science and research.
It is clear that the kind of integrated strategy that we need must:

  • Deliver better employment and working conditions and more favourable access and opportunities for women;
  • Value international and transnational mobility for the acquisition and transfer of new knowledge, as well as for a better understanding of different cultures;
  • Provide the necessary conditions to enable mobility between the public and the private sector that we need.
If scientists are provided with a fair professional environment, it will create a more creative and better atmosphere for them. Consequently it will enhance their research performance and it will help to attract more young people to this type of career. Therefore it will help us in our efforts to address one of our overriding concerns: to ensure future generations of talented and high-quality researchers.

Conclusion

Europe has contributed much in the field of science over centuries. If Europe is to prosper in the future, this level of contribution must be maintained and intensified. All of us here today are convinced that research is vital to Europe. We must do all we can to ensure that its importance is generally recognised, and that our scientists have the freedom they need to make their fullest possible contribution to Europe’s economic future.

But people often have stereotypical views of researchers as mad scientist types in white coats spending all their time in their labs. I think events like yours are important to show that scientists are just like you and me. They are intelligent, creative people with an enthusiasm for their subject. And it’s great that we can share their enthusiasm!

“Freedom of Science and Scientists in the context of European Research” is the title of this conference. I hope that I have convinced you that nothing that we are proposing and doing at the European level limits the fundamental right of every researcher to pursue his or her own scientific interests. Our actions are simply to enable researchers to reach this higher goal of expanding the frontiers of human knowledge.

Thank you for your attention and without further ado I would like to pass the floor to Professor Berlinguer. I am sure he will bring a very useful and thoughtful insight to this key issue of the freedom of Science and the scientific community.

Item source: SPEECH/05/541 Date: 23/09/2005 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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