Brussels, 21 Apr 2005
EIROforum, the group representing seven of Europe's largest intergovernmental research organisations, has published a policy paper outlining the practical steps it can take to help the EU meet its competitiveness goals.
The paper, dubbed 'the blue book', analyses the scientific challenges implied by the Lisbon agenda, and details the conditions that must be in place in order for Europe to meet them. A number of concrete initiatives that the EIROforum member organisations could undertake to help foster those conditions are also proposed.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) which currently holds the rotating EIROforum chair, says in a foreword to the paper: 'The EIROforum organisations are a symbol of the new Europe; they present visible proof that Europe and Europeans working together can achieve more than any individual national effort. [...] EIROforum has decided to launch this document in order to present [...] our vision for the years to come.'
Presenting the document to Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik in Brussels on 20 April, the heads and other representatives of the EIROforum member organisations offered their support for the Commission's recent proposals on the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
David Southwood, Director of Science at ESA, said: 'The FP7 proposals have to be seen as the framework programme that is most coherent in advance with the aims of Europe's scientific organisations.' When asked whether EIROforum had been able to fully contribute to the debate surrounding the proposals, Professor Southwood said that its accord with the Commission ensured that its members can and do talk directly about EU policy. 'The focus on mobility, SMEs [small and medium sized enterprises] etc - these buttons were pushed by all, and it's evidence that there has been collusion here.'
Despite the existence of effective lines of communication between EIROforum and decision makers, however, the policy paper makes it clear that the organisation is keen to cement a more formal role for itself. '[T]he EIROforum organisations should participate more actively and in accordance with their status in the development of the European Research Area [ERA] and its governance,' it reads.
As for the areas in which EIROforum feels it can best contribute to achieving the ERA vision, the first to be highlighted in the blue book is promoting science in society. Catherine Cesarsky, Director General of the European Southern Observatory, said: 'It is extremely important to have the public in science. Citizens need to be able to make informed decisions and hold informed discussions on scientific questions, but we are not there yet.'
The two key routes to achieving this objective, according to Dr Cesarsky, are through education and informing the general public. For the first of these, EIROfoum proposes the establishment of a pan-European 'Partnership for Science Education', involving national education authorities, science centres, teaching networks, learned societies, the Commission and the EIROforum organisations.
Regarding the level of scientific awareness among the general population, the paper laments the fact that the increasingly pan-European nature of research is not being reflected in media reporting. 'New initiatives are needed to help Europe's universities and science institutes to achieve the visibility they need and, indeed, deserve. One such initiative would be to establish a European Science Press Agency to cover developments of science in Europe and make its reports available in several languages to newspapers, radio, television and various world wide web sites.'
Securing adequate human resources for European scientific leadership was highlighted as a key challenge by Luxembourg's Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research, and current chair of the Competitiveness Council, François Biltgen. 'The question of human resources will be harder to solve [than increasing investment in research]. A lack of qualified scientists may well hamper the EU's achievement of the Lisbon goals,' he said.
The EIROforum policy document agrees with the minister's assessment, and emphasises that its members' experience in managing large numbers of scientists makes it well placed to contribute to finding the necessary solutions. 'The EIROforum proposes to engage constructively in this area in conjunction with the European Commission and others, setting out concrete measures in support of European initiatives to address this fundamental problem.'
Other areas in which the organisation sees a role for itself include creating linkages with industry, where EIROforum offers a commitment to participate in technology platforms and large integrated projects, and promoting European research internationally, where the organisation sees itself as a focal point in Europe for global scientific projects by virtue of its members' world leadership in various scientific fields.
EIROforum's support and commitments were warmly greeted by Commissioner Potocnik, who said: 'I welcome the EIROforum science policy paper and I support the development of further partnerships between the European Commission and EIROforum towards our common objectives of consolidating the European Research Area and progressing the Lisbon agenda.'
And he confirmed the Commission's desire to formalise and deepen the role of EIROforum in the governance of European research. 'We are currently developing together the [framework] that will allow us to organise our collaboration,' he concluded.
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