European research and innovation for global challenges
4 December 2015, Lund Revisited
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery
Minister Hellmark Knutsson,
Ladies and gentlemen,
"Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It's just the best we have. In this respect it's like democracy."
Those are the profound words of Carl Sagan, a man who was a brilliant communicator of science. His words remind us that science − like democracy – will change, develop and transform, but the direction it takes will always rest in our hands: shaped by our desire to contribute a better world. One in which we can all prosper.
Last year the new Commission had to decide the direction we will take, as policymakers for science and innovation, so that European research, science and innovation can contribute to solving the global challenges of our time, while, equally, ensuring the continued progress and prosperity of European society.
Two things were clear. First, our actions must always reflect the European values of openness and diversity, if we are serious about using European research and innovation for something greater than our own gain. And second, we have to embrace change − try new things and be willing to take risks − if we want European research and innovation to remain at the forefront of modernity and economic growth.
It is therefore with great pride, that I look back on the year gone by and consider how this new Commission has worked with speed and conviction in its first efforts to support European research and innovation that benefits Europe and the rest of the world.
In just one year, we have shown that the European Union is capable of finding new ways to mobilise investment in high-risk, high-reward innovation projects, with 1 billion euro through the new European Fund for Strategic Investments.
In just six months, we were able to establish a new Scientific Advice Mechanism, so that a diverse group of leading European experts can be called upon to inform EU policymaking with independent scientific advice.
And, in a few short months, we demonstrated that the Commission is capable of reacting swiftly in a crisis: intensifying the vital research needed to tackle a global health challenge like Ebola.
Today, I am honoured to mark the renewal of the Lund declaration, a declaration which calls for European research to be freed from its traditional constraints, so that it may have the greatest possible positive impact for society.
It is time to embrace the change that comes with a much more ambitious vision for the future, but if that vision is for Europe to benefit from using its research and innovation to solve global challenges, we must first consider that many of our most familiar academic structures and scientific institutions were established long before science was ever a global endeavour.
In past, individual nations conquered Everest, achieved space flight, navigated to the poles and explored the depths of our oceans. Science was defined by one nation's sprint to the finish line after the other, and scientific institutions and their funding were organised accordingly. Science was a matter of national pride and national security.
There was no political need to share data and little economic incentive to do so, but, by the turn of the century, those trends had already given way to a very different − a very global − dynamic.
New, pioneering nations were investing in science and education. Science was no longer dominated by the same elite club of countries and the challenges were becoming more complex. Whether it was chasing the Higgs particle, finding new drug therapies for HIV/AIDS; or maintaining the international space station, one by one, the latest frontiers in science proved to be insurmountable without collective effort.
It was no longer financially or intellectually viable to reach new frontiers alone.
So we focused on physical cooperation: helping researchers to spend time working in different countries in the European Research Area. Now we take cross-border research cooperation for granted. Europe succeeded in overcoming the physical barriers. Where we still have work to do, is adapting to a world in which how we use and contribute to knowledge is changing.
This is why I have made open innovation, open science and being open to the world, the 3 defining priorities of my mandate, so that European research is best equipped to take on the global challenges of the 21st century.
Open innovation is my first priority, because we live in a time when those without access to the traditional establishment are often the ones doing the most exciting work.
Take for example Tal Golesworthy, an engineer from the UK who was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome and − not content with the prospect of his early demise – engineered an aortic support, which saved his life and, so far, the lives of more than 100 others.
Traditionally we would have assumed that only a doctor would be in the position to save Tal's life, but his innovation not only did that, it made his recovery quicker and his quality of life far better.
I believe more open innovation in Europe would provide space for all kinds of people to pursue their ideas. People who see the solutions others do not and it is time we let them in.
So, over the next six months, I will be exploring how a European Innovation Council could help innovators succeed in bringing European innovation to global markets and we are innovating finance for innovation through the new European Fund for Strategic investments; cooperation with the structural funds through the Seal of Excellence and proposing a Fund of Funds as part of the Capital Markets Union, to leverage more European venture capital.
Open science is my second priority, because the days of keeping our research results to ourselves are over. There is far more to gain from sharing data and letting others access and analyse that data.
For example, if sharing big data reveals that a certain kind of cancer activates a particular molecular pathway in most cases and it turns out that there is already a drug approved and available to block the activation of that molecular pathway, clinical trials can begin almost immediately. Saving time, money and lives.
Or if scientists want to monitor the effects of climate change on local ecosystems, they can use open science to engage citizen reporting, and rapidly multiply the data at their disposal.
To make the most of open science opportunities for Europe, I plan to focus on open data, open access and research integrity over the course of my mandate.
Currently the Commission is working with EU member states to launch a European Open Science Agenda. We’re considering the merits of developing a European Open Science Cloud, as well as a Research Integrity Initiative and I will continue to advocate the removal of legal barriers to the use of Text and Data Mining techniques for research and innovation.
Open to the world, is my third priority, because there are few forces in this world as engaging and unifying as scientific endeavour. This year the EU was granted observer status for SESAME, home to the first particle accelerator, and to science diplomacy, in the Middle East, and we took the historical step of Horizon 2020 Association Agreements with Ukraine and Tunisia.
It is under this priority that I believe the spirit of the Lund declaration can have a very significant impact. I too see the potential for Joint Programming Initiatives "to become internationally recognised as best practices, [by] involving more partners" from around the world.
So I call on Member States to renew their support and to align their national research and innovation activities with that of the Joint Programming Initiatives. Particularly in the areas of health, climate, food, water and urbanisation.
Generate new momentum, by giving Joint Programming the political commitment; the opportunities for citizen engagement; and the investments they need to lead the way into a global research area.
Ladies and gentlemen, Carl Sagan also said:
"The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions […] This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change."
So I ask you to consider not only what we must achieve and overcome in linear terms. I ask you to consider what European research should stand for, in an age of global change and global responsibility.
As I see it, Europe must lead by example. Global knowledge, to solve global challenges, is a web we weave together. With each new strand it becomes stronger, but there is no way of knowing on whose strand the next dewdrop of inspiration will form, or where the next big idea will land. The only thing that is certain is that we can cast a much wider net together.