Brussels, 16 Mar 2005
The current and former EU Research Commissioners got together for the launch of a book co-authored by the latter on 15 March. 'The decline of the European scientific empire', by Philippe Busquin and journalist François Louis could have been a cause for concern for today's Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, given its rather pessimistic title. But 'The times are such that one needs to be provocative,' said Mr Potocnik at the book launch. An invitation to write the post script for the book also ensured that Mr Potocnik was able to outline what needs to be done in order to halt the hypothetical decline in European science.
The book is divided into three parts. The first charts the path of European science from after the Second World War to the present day. It argues that Europe's troubles began in the post-war period and examines the phenomenon of brain drain. This section also examines various strategies to get Europe back on track, such as the concept of a European Research Area, investment in strategic sectors such as hydrogen and nanotechnology, and moves to encourage private sector investment in research.
Part two is in the form of a question and answer session with Philippe Busquin. He talks about his interest in science from an early age, why he intended to become a researcher but had to change his plans, and his entry into politics. He also discusses the European Research Area, and offers his opinions on EU enlargement, research in Belgium and Europeans' relationship with science.
The third and final section of the book introduces ten great European scientists from the past, and ten issues central to today's debates on science in Europe. These include stem cells, fusion energy, the exploration of Mars, nanotechnology and BSE.
Mr Busquin says that he participated in the writing of the book with the aim of renewing the debate on research at European level. However, as he points out himself, research has never been so high on the political agenda. Prior to the European Council in Lisbon in 2000, Europe's Heads of State and Government had never got together and discussed the value of research.
The past and present Commissioners gave different reasons for why Europe is failing to close the research gap with its competitors. While Mr Busquin focused on a lack of commitment among Member States to increasing research investment, Mr Potocnik reminded those present that the real difference between Europe and its competitors is private sector research. 'Our competitors are investing over three per cent [in research] because of the private sector. [...] We need to keep public spending for the leverage effect, but it's crucial to create the right conditions for private investment. Otherwise we can forget three per cent.'
Mr Busquin denied that he has become more pessimistic with regard to the three per cent target since leaving the post of Commissioner. As Commissioner, his tone had to be positive and optimistic, he said. But now he is speaking of the reality; simply being pragmatic.
In his post script, Mr Potocnik talks about the significance of the Lisbon agenda, which he described on 15 March as 'a search in the EU for an answer as to whether we can sustain our way of life', and the move from a short-term to a long-term perspective on sustaining quality of life.
Speaking at the launch, Mr Potocnik hailed the achievements of Mr Busquin, citing the three per cent investment target and the ERA as his principal accomplishments. 'His achievements are impressive and his legacy is sometimes heavy. The best I can do to pay tribute to him is continue with the steps ahead. I'm going to do the post script.'
The book is published by Editions Luc Pire. For further information, please consult the following