Potocnik ponders relationship between science and political power

September 28, 2005

Brussels, Sep 2005

Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has outlined his thoughts on the links between science and political power to the first World conference on the future of science, arguing that these links are at the heart of the relationship between science and society.

In a speech that was more philosophical than most he has delivered to date, the Commissioner started by highlighting the dramatic increase in scope of exactly what falls within the realm of human action. Scientific advances in nuclear technology, biotechnology and sustainability issues have opened up an entirely new front for both public deliberations and policy making, he said.

When it comes to the relationship between science and policy, the Commissioner underlined three key elements that he described as 'partly contradictory'. Policy is expected to protect the independence of scientific endeavour, but at the same time, given the impact of scientific progress on quality of life and growth, policy makers are also expected to ensure a nurturing role for innovation. The third element in the relationship recognises that science is not ambivalent, but rather that science can be both part of the problem and part of the solution. 'Policy is therefore expected to [...] protect science against itself and place it at the service of society,' explained Mr Potocnik.

'The first two expectations are partly contradictory,' continued the Commissioner. 'Indeed, one means 'no interference', the other calls for support. [...] The third expectation abandons the unequivocal assumptions of truth and progress and is based on the recognition of the ambivalence of science and technology [...]. You will admit that this is a complex situation that needs to be addressed in a most pragmatic way!'

The EU attempts to resolve these conflicting elements between scientific endeavour and policy through a 'pragmatic process of bringing science closer to society', he continued. 'A new relationship between science and policy is being invented and built as we speak. [...] We need to learn to live in a collective environment where science is fully accepted, and at the heart of public deliberations.'

Mr Potocnik concluded: 'I want to bring a new dynamic to science and research and firmly engage them at the heart of policy making at EU level. I want them on the front pages of newspapers. I will strive to make sure that the extraordinary endeavour of scientific research is strongly supported and plays its full and complex role at the heart of European democracies.' To download the full text of Mr Potocnik's speech (in PDF format), please: click here

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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