Brussels, 19 Jul 2005
The European Commission has announced the names of the 22 eminent researchers who together will make up the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), a European-level funding organisation for fundamental research.
The Scientific Council was chosen by a panel of high-level scientists led by former Commissioner Lord Patten of Barnes, the Chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle Universities. Its role will be to ensure that the operations of the ERC are conducted according to the principle of scientific excellence.
Among the distinguished figures named on 18 July as founding members of the Scientific Council are the Austrian social scientist Helga Nowotny, who is currently the chair of EURAB, the Commission's European research advisory board.
Also named was Rolf Zinkernagel, the Swiss immunologist and Nobel Laureate who, like many members of the new Scientific Council, has long argued in favour of an independent European organisation to support basic research. 'Europe doesn't need another debating club. It needs a scientific committee with real power, and the freedom to use that power,' he said back in 2003.
Other members include Greek biologist Fotis Kafatos, director-general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory from 1993 to 2005; the current Polish Minister for Science and Information Society Technologies Michal Kleiber; Norbert Kroo, secretary-general of Hungarian academy of sciences and also a member of EURAB; and Lord May, the current President of the UK's Royal Society.
CORDIS News spoke to another member of the ERC Scientific Council, the Belgian economist Mathias Dewatripont, and asked him how he felt to be nominated for the position: 'I am obviously very honoured, and I think that the ERC is going to be an important organisation,' he said.
When asked if he had always supported the establishment of such a body, Professor Dewatripont replied: 'Yes, I supported the idea. In fact, you will not find many scientists who aren't supportive of the idea - there is really wide support for a European-level research body to emulate, for example, the National Science Foundation in the US.'
CORDIS News asked Professor Dewatripont for his thoughts on the current negotiations surrounding the EU research budget and its impact on funding for the ERC. He responded: 'The European scale is the right scale to deliver a boost for fundamental research. We should think of this [the ERC] as a step in the right direction, but obviously the bigger the step, the better, especially when some countries such as China are taking big steps themselves.'
Assuming that the necessary agreement is reached in the Council and Parliament, the ERC is expected to start operations in early 2007. By setting up the Scientific Council now, the Commission says that it will be possible to begin discussions on the scientific strategy and implementation methods of the body.
The members of the Scientific Council, who were selected independently of the Commission itself, will all act in a personal capacity, regardless of any political or other interests. They are charged with ensuring the quality and autonomy of scientific judgement that is seen as key to the ERC's success.
The 22 founding members of the ERC Scientific Council are: Dr Claudio Bordignon (IT), Professor Manuel Castells (ES), Professor Paul Crutzen (NL), Professor Mathias Dewatripont (BE), Dr Danial Esteve (FR), Professor Pavel Exner (CZ), Professor Hans-Joachim Freund (DE), Professor Wendy Hall (UK), Professor Fotis Kafatos (EL), Professor Michal Kleiber (PL), Professor Norbert Kroo (HU), Professor Maria Teresa Lago (PT), Dr Oscar Marin Parra (ES), Professor Robert May (UK), Professor Helga Nowotny (AT), Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (DE), Dr Leena Peltonen-Palotie (FI), Professor Alain Peyraube (FR), Dr Jens Rostrup-Nielsen (DK), Professor Salvatore Settis (IT), and Professor Rolf Zinkernagel (CH).