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European Research Heads Get a New Body
21 October 2011 1:39 pm
BERLIN—While European heads of state argue about how to address their financial mess and whether to maintain their common currency, the continent's science leaders enjoyed a more harmonious gathering here today. Fifty funding and research organizations from 23 countries joined in the founding assembly of Science Europe, an organization its members hope will give research funders a stronger voice in policy-making at the European Commission in Brussels and across the region.
The group replaces EuroHORCS (European Heads of Research Councils), a more informal body which dissolved itself yesterday at a final meeting. EuroHORCs leaders had pushed for the new organization for several years and the plan originally had been to also include in Science Europe some of the functions of the European Science Foundation (ESF), which is funded by many of the same bodies that were members of EuroHORCs. But at ESF's general assembly earlier this year, members narrowly failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to dismantle the group. So EuroHORCs decided to go ahead and create Science Europe anyway and the new body will work together with ESF to coordinate its "responsible wind-down" in the next few years, said Paul Boyle, who was elected Science Europe president at the assembly this morning. To cement the link between the two organizations, Pär Omling, director general of the Swedish Research Council, who's just been recommended by the ESF governing council to be itsnext president, will also serve as a vice president of Science Europe.
Not everyone is happy about the still-planned dissolution of ESF and the loss of its funding for cross-border basic research. When the idea was initially floated, some researchers started a pressure group called Eulenspiegel Action to campaign against the move. According to marine geologist Jean-Pierre Henriet of Ghent University in Belgium, one of the group's founders: "The winding down of the direct funding … of European collaborative, curiosity-driven (bottom-up) research definitely leaves a gap, in particular at the middle level of the European pyramid of collaborative research funding (postdoctoral to tenure track level). … If this generation of young scientists moves out by lack of opportunities to develop their ideas, and to join forces at their initiative, Europe loses its stars."
Today's assembly also elected a board for Science Europe and adopted bylaws and membership criteria. Eligible members are national organizations that fund or carry out research in countries that are part of the 47-member Council of Europe. The founding members were all invited to participate, but other organizations can now apply. Boyle says a second wave of new members is expected in the spring, when the membership committee has had a chance to assess applications.
Boyle, a geographer who is chief executive of the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council, says that priorities for the organization will be finding ways for European scientists to enjoy open access to data and publications and freedom of movement—both of money and researchers—across national borders. European Union research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn told the delegates that she looked forward to working with them to bring such a vision of mobility, known as the European Research Area, into being by 2014. "I hope Science Europe will give a fresh impetus to representation and involvement of scientists in the political process," she said.