Greek scientists are greeting with dismay the news that Achilleas Mitsos has resigned from the country's education ministry. Mitsos, one of Europe's leading science policy wonks (he served as the European Commission's director-general for research from 2000 to 2005), was appointed secretary general for research and technology in the Greek education ministry in 2009. At the time, he told reporters, he hoped to help boost Greek science by setting up a peer-reviewed grant system, primarily with €1 billion in European Union funding that Greece had earmarked for research.
But a year later, only one call for applications—for a small grant for postdocs—had been issued, and no money had been awarded. Saying that disagreements with the deputy minister of education, Yiannis Panaretos, prevented him from doing his job, Mitsos resigned at the end of December. (Greek media reported that Panaretos said he asked for Mitsos's resignation, since he hadn't produced any results.)
"It is a pity for Greece and for Greek science," says Andreas Drouzas, a botanist at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. "To have a person like Mitsos, who has all this experience—it is a pity to have him in that position and not be able to do his job."
Mitsos got caught in an ongoing political battle to revamp the Greek research landscape, says George Kollias, president of the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center in Vari. "In this battle there was a victim, and it was Mitsos," he says. Kollias adds that such battles are to be expected, but even in the middle of reform battles, "the government should not forget that there are places [in Greek research] that serve excellence, innovation, and good quality science. Independently of the big battles, they should fund structures that support the places that have already proven themselves as excellent."
Mitsos apparently agrees. In his letter of resignation he wrote, "In Greece we see a paradox. While we have extraordinary researchers, the quality of research is mediocre." He had hoped to support those top researchers through transparent peer-review programs, he says.
Despite his differences with Panaretos, Mitsos made it clear in his letter that he still had a "very positive opinion" of the current government's overall policies and its minister of education, Anna Diamantopoulou. Mitsos, an economist, says he will return to academia. Before joining the government, he was professor of "International Economic Relations and the Environment" at the University of the Aegean in Mytilene.