Research Commissioner Janez POTOCNIK: Europe needs its researchers - Descartes Prizes Ceremony

December 6, 2004

Prague, 2 December 2004

Mr President of the Republic,

Madam President of the Academy of Sciences,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure for me to be here today in the prestigious Prague Castle to award the Descartes Prizes to European researchers and communicators which have excelled in their fields.

When preparing this speech, I thought that this Ceremony and me being here today quite illustrated the new face of the European Union. Here is a very visible and concrete illustration of the latest EU enlargement.

I also said to myself that had the Descartes Prize existed at the time I was a researcher in macro-economics, I would probably have liked to compete for it!

But today, as Commissioner for Science and Research, I am on the other side of the fence and I am very happy to give this opening speech.

– o0o –

The European enlargement ensures the unity of our continent. With the enlargement of the European Union, what has finally prevailed is the option taken by the people of Europe for peace, cooperation, liberty, and democracy while respecting our diversity. The positive results obtained by the European countries put the Union in the forefront, for instance, in terms of education, health and, more generally, in terms of quality of life.

These are the values which constitute the strength of the political project of the European Union. These are the values which constitute our “raison d’être” and our pride as Europeans.

These are the values which influence our prospects, including the way we handle scientific and technical challenges by means of cooperation.

The Descartes Prize for Scientific Research and the Descartes Prize for Science Communication are inspired by these very values.

Trans-national scientific cooperation brings together creative minds, their know-how and means to give new impetus to research. This leads to new applications that enhance our every day life.

Now, why do I find this so essential for our future?

Because Europe depends on the brains and the creativity of its people to guarantee its future prosperity. It is this creativity, together with an entrepreneurial spirit within an innovation-friendly framework that will produce new products, new services and new jobs.

Because our society of the future is based on knowledge. In the 21st century, the engine of growth in society will be the process through which we will create, apply and extract value from knowledge. Or, in more concrete terms, how we will make the best use out of our research potential.

For me one thing is clear: the European Union needs its researchers. And we need more researchers!

It is therefore an honour for me to present today the Descartes prizes for the first time, to reward the excellence of scientific work in all fields of scientific knowledge, carried out by trans-national teams, in the European Union.

Launched in 2000, the Descartes Prize for Scientific Research has today reached its 5th anniversary.

This prize is essential in that it takes part in the process of “Europeanisation” of research since it encourages researchers to collaborate more, and more effectively.

The Commission services have received the results of the work of more than 350 teams, involving thousands of scientists. The outcome of rigorous evaluations has made it possible to distinguish 11 laureate teams and 30 finalist teams.

The partners of 8 of these teams are present here in Prague today. You are not only representative of the best scientists and engineers of our generation, you are the living proof that first rate results can be obtained by gathering talents together. This proves that high-level research takes advantage of the multiplication of bright minds and of the access to equipment and infrastructure that would not have been easily accessible in one country alone.

– o0o –

I am particularly pleased to award today for the first time the new Descartes Prize for Science Communication. With this award, the Commission wishes to stimulate interest and careers in science communication and to improve the quality of science communication to the public.

The importance of science communication with the public cannot be overestimated. Science cannot live isolated from society. The public has to be able to understand the results of research and have an informed opinion on the state of scientific progress. In order to bring science closer to society, science must be made public to those who will profit from it. Citizens should consider scientific and technological choices as their own. The key here is mutual trust. It is crucial in times when sometimes controversial or ambiguous information circulate around science, that these difficult issues are discussed openly and that we can receive clear and factual information about sometimes very complex issues.

Therefore, scientific and technological culture must be developed by all possible means, particularly through approaches that activate the general public and are open to the diversity of experience and knowledge.

These might include scientific newspapers and reviews, scientific TV and radio documentaries, exhibitions in scientific museums, festivals, science weeks.... The European Commission wants to go even further and encourage research teams working on Community projects to think about, and therefore to organise right from the very start of their projects information activities for the public.

Information for the public is not of secondary importance, something to be tackled when the research is done and results achieved. Information for the public should be, must be, considered as one of the key elements in any research project.

It is necessary to encourage the development of public debate on scientific issues, and of the citizens’ participation in decision-making.

This approach is central to the position of the Commission, because we want a broad participation of the citizens at all stages of policy-making.

– o0o –

The Descartes Prizes – which aim to value scientific excellence and the communication of science to the public – reflect the core issues of the strategy for European research which I will pursue in the coming years.

The Commission, and me personally, is committed to help stimulate the researcher’s career in Europe. We have launched initiatives this year such as the ERA-More Mobility Network and the European Mobility Portal, and I intend to propose further initiatives in the near future, such as a European Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for Researchers. All this to make it easier for researchers across Europe to work together, exchange ideas and results, work closer with the industry and also with researchers from countries outside the EU.

We want to make Europe the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world. At the same time we do not want to compromise on social cohesion and environmental sustainability. This is the difficult and challenging task that Europe faces. Education, research and innovation lie at the heart of this strategy. And without a dynamic and vital research community, we will never be able to meet these ambitions.

– o0o –

I would not like to end this speech without thanking all those who have worked on the selection and organisation of the Descartes Prizes and, in particular, the panel presidents of both the Descartes Prize for Science Communication and the Descartes Prize for Scientific Research, and the members of the Grand Jury.

I wish to thank Mrs Illnerova, the President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, whose demanding collaboration appeared essential to ensure that the ceremony could take place in Prague.

I also hope that the staging of the present ceremony, and the echo that it will receive in the European press, will encourage the scientists and the professionals in science communication to give a more human perception of research and innovation.

And I cannot finish without calling the young generation to join me. Not only because it is their world of tomorrow, but also because their expectation for a better world should not be disappointed. The Europe of Science should be able to maintain their dreams and it is up to us, “the elders”, to provide them with the indispensable means.

Thank you very much.

Item source: SPEECH/04/507 Date: 02/12/2004

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