Brussels, 15 Apr 2005
With the increasing internationalisation of science, it is essential to develop an efficient scientific governance system at EU level in order to enable Europe to take rapid decisions and achieve its aim of becoming the most knowledge-based economy in the world, says Philippe Busquin, former EU Commissioner for Research and President of the Scientific Technology Options Assessment (STOA) of the European Parliament.
Speaking at a conference on 14 April on 'the futures of Europeans in the global knowledge society', Mr Busquin spoke also of the paradox between the fact that it is unthinkable nowadays to have an EU Council meeting without research being on the agenda, while there is evidence that the general public in industrialised countries is growing increasingly tired of science and technology.
'We are facing a huge problem in our aim to achieve the Lisbon goal and that is that not enough people are producing knowledge,' stated Mr Busquin. ' There are too many scientists in key posts that are over 50 yet we all know that the peak of productivity is between the age of 20 and 30. There are also too few young people interested in a scientific career.'
'Each country, each region must develop the debate. Europe must reconcile itself with knowledge,' urged Mr Busquin.
Mr Busquin then went on to explain that the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) project had underlined the problem of scientific governance at both European and global level.
'It took Europe ages to decide on a location,' said Mr Busquin. ' We could not decide between France and Spain. Once the decision was settled at European level, we then faced the same problem at global level. All we have is the G8, which is only for developed countries and is therefore not enough.'
According to Mr Busquin, Europe must work on developing scientific governance at EU level and must also become a key player in developing governance at global level.
Since both funds and scientists are limited, priority must be given to certain fields and sectors. How do we prioritise? asked Mr Busquin. Forecasting and sharing information is essential to govern together. However, he added, subsidiarity is also necessary for scientific governance as research is conducted very differently from country to country.
For example, in the UK and Belgium, research is mostly conducted at university level, in France research takes places predominantly in large research centres such as the CEA (the Centre for Atomic Energy) and the CNRS (the National Centre for Scientific Research), while in Germany, it is a mixture of the two.
According to Mr Busquin an EU scientific governance system should be developed in accordance with the recognition that the regional dimension is a positive one, and that it is sometimes better to fund research at this level than at European level.
'Yet research has become a service industry no longer restricted to a single region or country,' explained Mr Busquin. This international dimension brings about a novel aspect, that of a common destiny. It is important that Europe asks the question: if science is universal, what type of programmes do we need and at what level should governance be established?' added Mr Busquin.
Furthermore, continued Mr Busquin, we have missed out on many innovations in the EU because the relationship between enterprises and research centres and universities also varies from country to country. As Mr Busquin explained, in the EU, on average, only ten per cent of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) have regular contact with centres of knowledge creation. In Finland, however, the figure is 55 per cent, which means that for some countries the average is two to three per cent.
'Even though 95 per cent of research funding in the EU comes from individual Member States, European funding is nonetheless essential,' said Mr Busquin. 'Thanks to European projects, new synergies are being created. These projects have created bridges between universities and SMEs, and created structuring infrastructures,' he added.
Europe must continue in this direction and must also focus on the issue of intellectual property, which is undergoing complete transformation. 'With the internationalisation of science, it is important to find rules. We need to look into this issue more so as to help European research be transformed into innovation faster. Europe must also focus more on its universities, a key factor for a knowledge economy,' he concluded.