Brussels, 24 June 2002
'Serious and swift action' must be taken to stem the decline of European scientific capability, six European Nobel prize laureates have said in an open letter to the Seville European Council.
The letter is signed by 1992 French physics laureate Georges Charpak, 1984 Italian physics laureate Carlo Rubbia, 1982 British chemistry laureate Aaron Klug, and three winners of the medicine prize - Sweden's Bengt Samuelsson (1982), Italy's Rita Levi-Montalcini (1986) and Belgium's Christian de Duve (1974).
The Nobel laureates welcome the Lisbon Summit goal of making the EU the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010, and the target set at the Barcelona Council earlier this year to increase R&D (research and development) investments in the EU to three per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) by the same year.
But they warn: 'These declarations and intentions are welcome per se, but are inadequate even to put a brake on the process of relative back-sliding of European scientific capability, let alone if one wants to 'catch up and overtake the US.'
They add that the gap between the EU and its main competitors is not only wide, but growing rapidly for key R&D indicators such as share of GDP, share of national budgets, number of people employed in R&D and highly-cited scientific articles. They also highlight the 'brain drain' of talented scientists, which is a problem in most EU countries.
They call for more of the Sixth Framework programme's budget to be devoted to basic research rather than industrial development, and say the EU needs to reorder its priorities so more money is directed towards science. 'The R&D policies of the European Union leave a lot to be desired,' the letter states. 'The limited share of the overall EU budget - about 1/10th of what is spent on agriculture - conveys a strange view of the potential and future of the European Union.'
The requirement to create European network consortia in order to qualify for EU grants also acts as 'a deterrent to scientists at the highest level,' the laureates argue, by encouraging them to look elsewhere for funding which is based on considerations of quality rather than geography. They call for this networking requirement to be replaced by investment in centres of excellence open to all nationals.
They also recommend transferring the administration of EU scientific research programmes to a European science council structure 'based on transparency and peer review.'
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin says such a council could help to boost Europe's research capability. 'This idea is currently being studied by large national research agencies,' he said. 'What emerges will be a test of their willingness to work together, for example by sharing some of their resources in the spirit of the European research area.'
The Commission says it agrees that more must be invested in making sure Europe does not lose its place in global science and technology.