Brussels, 24 January 2002
Spanish Secretary of State for science and technology, Ramon Marimon, is confident that the Spanish Presidency will succeed in reaching agreement on a number of contentious issues affecting the research community during its six month term, he told CORDIS News.
The Presidency has a lot to achieve before the end of June in the eyes of the research community, who are hoping for an agreement on the Sixth Framework programme (FP6) at the Research Council in March, the announcement of further action to implement the goals and measures pledged at the Lisbon Council two years ago and, hopefully, an agreement on the location of the European food safety authority (EFSA).
Mr Marimon concedes that the timing is tight - the Parliament has to adopt an opinion on the Commission's proposals concerning the rules of participation before the Research Council in March, but he is sure that this will happen. He is equally confident that the EU's Research Ministers will have little difficulty in reaching a consensus on 11 March.
'There are things about the structure that we still have to define. I mean where the Commission has to explain exactly what it means to implement particular instruments, for example, but they are doing that, so I think that although time is short, we have already had many discussions about the Sixth Framework programme and opinions are much closer than they were before,' he told CORDIS News.
The Barcelona Council in March will come at an interesting moment, according to Mr Marimon, as the euro is now showing the depth and strength of the single market, where new innovations can have a large impact and large return. 'We are now in a position where it's a good time to bring together research and development and innovation,' said Mr Marimon. 'It is in this context that the initiative on biotechnology will be put forward [at Barcelona], an initiative that brings together not only researchers but industry, the financial sector, the environment and ethical issues,' said Mr Marimon.
Biotechnology is one of the issues at the heart of the relationship between science and society, which Mr Marimon assured CORDIS News the Spanish Presidency intends to address.
'I wouldn't agree with the view that society is not interested [in science],' said the Secretary of State. 'I think it is very interested, but sometimes what happens is that the channels of communication fail.'
As an example, Mr Marimon cited genetic engineering. 'It's misunderstood sometimes that to have better transplants we have to have better genetic engineering and sometimes people support the former but think we should not do the second. Sometimes in biotechnology there is a lot of confusion.'
Asked whether he agreed with Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin's view that media portrayal is one of the reasons for this widespread disinterest, Mr Marimon stressed that it is not only the media which is responsible for raising interest and awareness.
'It's true that better media coverage of these things would also help, but [...] I think that it is the responsibility of everyone: of scientists, enterprises, the media, to put things in the right place. That's the only way we can have the right balance between the benefits and the possible costs.'
Underlining the fact that there is an interest in science among Europe's citizens, Mr Marimon emphasised the success of Spain's first science week, held recently, which he said received a very enthusiastic response.
'Society understands more and more that to be a citizen in this century, you have to understand something, because you constantly have issues of food safety, possible developments in health and the environment. [...] I think that the interest is there. Sometimes the problem is that we lack enough background information to show that the risks are properly assessed,' he said.
An example of an institution intended to assure the EU's citizens that risks are minimal is the European food safety authority (EFSA). Although the creation of the EFSA has been agreed, Europe's Heads of State and Government failed to agree on the location. The Spanish Secretary of State is hopeful that an agreement can be reached under his country's Presidency. 'There are many issues open and we hope to close them under our Presidency. I'm sure there will be a discussion,' he said.
All this is a lot of responsibility for the relatively young Spanish Ministry of science and technology, created in the year 2000, but Mr Marimon seems confident that his country will not disappoint.