Is there a role for the individual scientist in formulating a European Science and Technology Policy?

Summary of an address given by Henk J. van deer Molen, Vice-President of the Academia Europaea, at the Council of Europe's confcrence on "Science and Technology in Europe - Prospects for the 21st Century", Gdansk, October 2000.

The role of individual working scientists in formulating policies is often distant and not very visible.This is understandable, because "policies" are more often than not the result of topdown mechanisms in which views from organisations (whether scientific or political) are dominant rather than views from individuals. The roots of any scientific or technological development lie, however, in the ideas of individual scientists. In contrast to the large number of national and international organisations representing different interest groups (universities, industries, research organisatioiis, governments) which participate in the European scientific debate, there are only a small number of organisations representing individual scientists, let alone the individual scientists as such. It is not surprising, therefore, that European discussions are dominated by organised interest groups and not by the experience or views of scientists or groups of scientists. For the individual scientist it is difficult if not impossible to find guidance in a clear European science policy.

The European Union - including in research - operates mainly through the subsidiarity principle. Most European research is dictated mainly by national science policies. It is striking, that the 5th Framework Programme includes 225 priority programmes, reflecting the well-argued interests of the member states who, quite understandably, want to see their own interests covered rather than the European priorities.

One might ask if the individual scientist should be guided by any policy rather than his/her interest and expertise in a chosen scientific discipline. It is obvious that science and research are too important for the economic and technological development of Europe to argue the role of individual scientists on historic or philosophical grounds only. European scientists are well equipped to strengthen the global competitiveness of Europe in research and, as a consequence, strengthen economic activities and living conditions. Provided that we find the mechanisms to further the synergy of European research, it is clear that European scientists and European research can direct and can lead the way in many scientific disciplines.

Accepting that any European research policy will be additional to the national science policies of the member states, the need for European added value should imply a structural and coordinated approach through advice that is not bound by national scientific or political priorities. It is in this respect that the role of scientists should be strengthened through the involvement of European organisations representing the views and expertise of scientists. Examples of such organisations are the European learned societies (of chemists, physicists, political sciences, history etc.), and the European academies of scientists. The best known of the latter is the Academia Europaea which was established in 1988 following an initiative by European Science Ministers. The Academia is able to provide in complete independence, advice on a wide spectrum of issues to governments and to industry.

The basis of scientific training lies in higher education institutions and research establishments.Therefore from a scientists point of view a broad science base - originating from or with links to higher education - will have to be the responsibility of all European countries.A credible European science policy should be recognised and implemented by scientists. This can be realised only if scientists recognise the mechanisms at the European level which are usually also employed at the national level. These mechanisms include political responsibility at ministerial level, stakeholder organisations (industry, interest groups) to advise on specific activities, granting organisations for financial support and advisory organisations (academies, learned societies).

At the European level this implies, that:

European science policy will have to be decided by the ministers on the recommendation of advisory panels.

For specific activities, international bodies such as the European Science Foundation could increase the effectiveness of national interests. This implies some transfers of responsibilities and finances. The European Commission and its administration should not exercise an independent policy in the execution of a European research policy. It should facilitate and execute its activities in closer collaboration with existing European organisatioiis of scientists.

Evaluation of European research should be enhanced, with the involvement of independent experts.




February 2001