This week Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, visited the UK, his first visit since being appointed.
While here, Commissioner Moedas delivered a public lecture at the Royal Society, organised by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The Commissioner spoke about ‘science without borders’, and the role of science as open, collaborative and a tool for diplomacy.
The Commissioner opened his speech by strongly supporting science and innovation, citing it as the biggest driver for prosperity and the best investment for growth. He highlighted diversity both of people and talent, as Europe’s biggest asset.
Openness, he argued, is crucial in ensuring the European Union’s global role in research, science and innovation. In fact, this openness, this science without borders, has encouraged the development of new approaches to research, and the Commissioner outlined his vision of making Europe ‘home to each and every new approach’. Europe should be a testing ground for new methods and ideas. Furthermore, he noted ‘creative abrasion’, the amplification rather than minimisation of differences, as being critical to keeping up with the speed and pace of scientific invention and development.
He gave examples of the role of science in building bridges: Ukraine has recently signed an Association Agreement to Horizon 2020. Collective European action on funding for research has been important in the fight against Ebola.
The Commissioner also stressed the importance of the UK’s place in the European Union, its contribution to European science, and the role that the UK’s EU membership plays in contributing to science. He paid tribute to the success of the European Research Council and Horizon 2020, programmes from which UK science has benefitted. Indeed, he noted that in the last two years of the FP7 programme, the UK received more funding that any other country, including Germany. In numbers, this equates to approximately €7 billion of EU funds, delivered through over 17,000 grants.
This speech comes at an important time for European science, when questions are being asked about the future of scientific advice in the EU, and concerns have been raised over proposed cuts to EU investment in research and innovation.
On science advice, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has asked Commissioner Moedas to develop options on how best to provide scientific advice to the European Commission before the summer. In the question and answer session following his lecture, the Commissioner confirmed that there will be a place for science advice in the European Commission going forward.
On investment in research and innovation, Commissioner Moedas outlined the European Commission’s proposed €315 billion European Fund for Strategic Investments. This has raised concern amongst the science community as it is funded in part by a cut to European research funding. The Fund proposes putting more money in high risk, high value investments in areas such as strategic infrastructure, education, research innovation. The Commissioner argued that the EFSI would result in greater investment in research and innovation, however questions were raised over the lack of guarantee that EFSI funds would be spent in this way and the need to raid the science budget to fund it in the first place.
In his concluding remarks, the Commissioner addressed the role of the UK within the European Union. Europe, the Commissioner said, ‘cherishes the United Kingdom as part of its community of scientific endeavour’. ‘British science thrives in the EU and we thrive because of you’. He declared his ‘immense ambition’ for UK science in Europe and stated ‘I always want to see the United Kingdom at our table’.
You can read Commissioner Moedas’ speech.