Janez Potocnik European Commissioner for Science and Research = 56th Nobel Laureate Meeting

June 27, 2006

Lindau, 25th of June 2006

Lady Bernadotte, Madam Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It feels good to be here with you today – among distinguished and upcoming world excellence in science, gathered to find and to give inspiration, to exchange experiences and to share visions on the future of science. And I’m happy that among the participants there are many beneficiaries of European “Marie Curie” fellowships.

It is good that these meetings take place in Europe, despite a decline in Nobel prizes granted to research “made in Europe”. I take this as an additional responsibility for us, policy makers at European and national level, to foster excellence in European research. I will therefore concentrate in my speech on how I intend to deliver on this responsibility for excellence.

Let’s start by taking look at the political and economic background for our action. I am personally convinced that Europe has no choice but to embrace globalisation in Europe, to compete on our merits and not on our past, to be open not closed and, above all, to make this choice work in practice.

Very simply, this means that we have to deliver on a European knowledge-based economy and society. Because knowledge, and with this I mean the way in which knowledge is produced through research, diffused through education and used through innovation, is the answer to Europe’s main challenge: Boosting growth and jobs, promoting a sustainable, healthy, safe and social Europe.

Research as part of this knowledge agenda happens to be also at least part of the answer to the “Europe fatigue” we have experienced last year. Why? Because research is a good example for the principles underlying European integration: it unites in diversity.

What is the role of the EU on the way to the knowledge society? This merits a short explanation. We have a rather sophisticated system of shared competences between the EU and its Member States, including the Länder, regions and communes. Shared competences mean shared responsibility. We therefore have a common “growth and jobs” programme, called the Lisbon programme (strategy?). Under this framework, Member States established national reform programmes in 2005. These are discussed and evaluated at European level, so that common conclusions can be drawn. Progress is monitored and regularly discussed at European level. The national programmes are testament to an important shift of priorities. Investing more in knowledge and innovation is clearly identified as a key action.

With these programmes and the commitments made by Member States, we are still some distance from our objective to spend 3% of GDP on R&D, but we can nonetheless still make a major step forward from today’s level of about 1,9%.

The role of the EU is much more than serving as a forum for exchanging experiences gained through national reform programmes. National efforts need to be complemented by robust European level actions. At the core of these actions is the Seventh European Research Programme, a seven year programme with a budget of 54,5 billion Euro – even though I would prefer it if the financial figure had a “seven” in it as well!

Although it only amounts to some 5% of the total R&D-spending in Europe, it constitutes a significant proportion of the so-called “free” funds available, that is the funds dedicated to research projects and programme funding as opposed to institutional funding. It can therefore be very effective in structuring the European Research Area.

The bulk of the framework programme is traditionally dedicated to “cooperation”. This is where we want to enable researchers to work jointly on exciting challenges and innovative solutions in crucial thematic areas of science and technology, such as health, energy, materials, environment or transport. It is the “top-down” part of our research funding, in the sense that the areas for research are set by the policy makers – leaving of course sufficient flexibility to be able to take emerging needs and developments into account.

As this particular Lindau meeting is dedicated to chemistry, I’ll use it as example to illustrate what we wish to achieve with cooperation at European level.

Today’s creative chemistry helps to feed us, cloth us, house us, entertain us and keep us healthy. It provides us with energy and transport. At the same time advances in chemistry and biochemistry are helping us to conservescarce resources and protect the natural environment.

But the best of chemistry is yet to come: cleaner and more sustainable energy production, storage and supply; reliable and fast high-capacity information storage, distribution and processing; increased food quality and production with fewer demands on arable land; novel anti-cancer, anti-aging and disease prevention therapies based on the human genome.

Chemistry can provide functional materials that will make our vehicles lighter and stronger and, hence, safer and more energy-efficient, and make our buildings safer with lower energy consumption thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. True sustainable development requires increasingly the eco-efficient processes and products that chemistry may provide.

Funding joint projects by European researchers is a well-established feature of our programmes. The future programme will also include a completely new action: The European Research Council.

This is probably the most exciting new development in the European research landscape. Here the European Commission is breaking radical new ground in the support of leading-edge research.

The ERC will give a new meaning to European added value: the continental (rather than national) scale of competition for funding. It will allow a researcher in any Member State to compete with all other researchers to win funding in a way that guarantees the existence of open competition between the best players, whoever and wherever they are, and regardless of nationality or the involvement of researchers from other Member States.

Under the guidance of a Scientific Council, the ERC will support the most eminent, truly creative scientists, engineers and scholars. Individual teams will pursue projects at the forefront of science, regardless of disciplinary boundaries. It is a “bottom-up” scheme in the sense that it will rely entirely on the independent Scientific Council to define the research areas and the support schemes.

So far the Scientific Council has developed a strategy that focuses on two main schemes: the “Early Stage Independent Investigators” scheme and the “Established Investigators” scheme.

A few words on the “Early Stage Independent Investigators” scheme. It is intended to target the most talented researchers as they start their first independent research team. Existing institutional research structures in Europe do not give sufficient opportunities to make the jump to independent work in new areas.

With such schemes and an average budget of about 1 billion Euro per year, the European Research Council is going to be of major importance in making science in Europe more exciting and attractive.

But we all know: “money is not everything”. I am convinced that, in the right environment, “science can fly”. We therefore also have to look at the framework conditions.

For private investment in R&D, this relates for instance to better regulation, flexible state aid rules, an intelligent use of public procurement, all this with the objective of creating the right conditions so that innovative lead markets are created.

I would like to mention four of our actions, designed to increase the attractiveness of Europe for researchers in the years to come.

Firstly, we can expand the Marie-Curie fellowships. Under the Seventh Framework Programme, the so-called “People” programme will give tens of thousands of researchers the opportunity to benefit from fellowships for high quality research training; whether at the initial stages of their career or later through life-long training and career development.

This includes numerous opportunities for researchers from outside Europe, not only for research training but also for knowledge sharing.

But we will take this well-established European policy on human resources in research a step further. In close union with Member States, we work towards a single, open and competitive European labour market for researchers.

Essential here is the implementation by Member States and research stakeholders of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment.

With the Charter and the Code, researchers’ rights and obligations are enhanced wherever they may work throughout the EU.

The concept is straightforward: if researchers are provided with a fair professional environment with good career prospects, then it will be more attractive to stay in, come to, or return to Europe. This is an important part of realising our knowledge society.

The third element has to do with Europe’s openness to researchers from third countries. Openness to “foreigners” is an important societal concept. It relies on curiosity and tolerance, and it goes far beyond the remit of a European institution and the domain of research. However, European law includes, since last year, a very concrete act which increases Europe’s openness to researchers and which, I hope, will increase the attractiveness of Europe to scientists from outside: the "Researchers' visa" Directive.

This Directive is all about easing the entry and stay of researchers from outside Europe. It is about fast-track procedures for residence and working permits, without “economic needs tests”. Permits that will also allow third country researchers to move freely throughout Europe for their research work. Member States will have to put the Directive into their national legislation by October 2007. Greece and France have already done so – and that means that another element of the European Research Area is about to become reality.

My last example concerns our proposal for a European Institute of Technology. The EIT will not be a new university or a mere network, but an institutional network with substance. Its central core, with its own legal personality, will be a light structure. Its heart will be the knowledge communities. These will be integrated partnerships, consisting of teams put together by universities, research organisations and industry. Their task will be to tackle strategic challenges in interdisciplinary areas.

In order to get it right, we have to ensure flexibility and autonomy so that we attract the best; we have to allow for a mixture of bottom-up and top-down strategies, building on Technology Platforms and Joint Technology Initiatives; and we have to enable the EIT to be future-oriented, focused on problem-solving. If we get this right - and that is exactly what the Commission intends to include in its formal proposal later this year – then I am sure that the EIT will be a crucial step forward in building the European Research Area and the European Education Area. And Europe will be more attractive for science and research.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we need and what we want is an attractive Europe, with exciting research opportunities in scientific fields of the future; with human resources and capacities optimised to match our ambitions; with a society that is aware and supportive of research.

A research Europe that is also connected and above all open to the world, co-operating and sharing knowledge with the best groups outside Europe.

Such a Europe is within our reach.

I have given you some of the ideas how we intend to act at European level to make it reality. You will have noted that it was quite the opposite of the famous statement of John F Kennedy: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

This, because today’s Europe needs to be very clear about what it can do for its citizens. And because I know you are highly committed to science and to society. Together, I think, we can go really far.

Thank you.

Item source: SPEECH/06/414 Date: 26/06/2006

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments