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Opening speech at the Marie Curie conference celebrating the 50 000th Marie Curie research fellow

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Opening speech at the Marie Curie conference celebrating the 50 000th Marie Curie research fellow

The European Union's Marie Curie Actions programme, which provides funding for some of the world's best young researchers, today celebrates its 50 000th beneficiary with a conference in Brussels. "The programme enables our most promising researchers to gain experience abroad, in Europe and beyond, and it allows us to attract the best young researchers from outside the EU so that Europe can benefit from their talents," said Commissioner Vassiliou.

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President Barroso,

President Buzek,

Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by expressing my thanks to President José-Manuel Barroso and President Jerzy Buzek for being with us to open this conference on "Marie Curie Actions for an Innovative Europe". It is a privilege to benefit from your insights into how Europe will tackle the decade ahead.

As you have both pointed out, future growth in the European Union can only come from innovation. This means freeing up the flow of innovative ideas from creative and talented researchers.

Today, we showcase the achievements of this successful training-through-research programme that places researchers at the heart of our future prosperity. We celebrate the 50 000th Marie Curie fellows to be supported by this programme since its creation.

Mobility, excellence and innovation, such are the key features of the Marie Curie Actions on which we should build in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a highly interdependent world where we need to pool our resources and our talents.

As Marie Curie herself remarked, 'science is essentially international'. Our aim is 'knowledge without borders'. Our goal is to create a vast network, a European network, of innovation and knowledge that rises above national or sectoral boundaries.

Researcher mobility has to be the heart of this network.

Mobility of young people is an issue close to my heart: it is at the centre of "Youth on the Move", the Europe 2020 flagship initiative that the Commission adopted in September as President Barroso recalled.

We know it, the experience of living and sharing knowledge in another country is a firm foundation for a career in our increasingly global economy. It is also at the centre of our European project and European values. Marie Curie and European programmes such as Erasmus are playing, in this perspective, a crucial role to build what Jean Monnet used to call a 'European State of mind'.

Our objectives with the Marie Curie programme, is to promote researchers’ mobility across sectors, disciplines and countries. We devote 80% of the budget to training and mobility of young researchers up to the age of 35.

Through this programme, our young researchers develop new skills, new knowledge and new perspectives. Their cross-border collaboration releases even greater creativity and innovation in turn.

If the UK, Germany, France, Spain are the countries hosting the highest number of researchers, interest in the programme is increasing all over Europe. All top 100 universities in Europe are participating in this programme. By 2013, we will have supported about 90.000 mobile and highly skilled researchers. This is a great success in itself.

But I am determined that more should be done to address the difficulties that linger: to tackle the obstacles facing researchers who are mobile such as language barriers or remaining administrative obstacles. Also, if we want the emergence of a knowledge-based society in Europe, we need to speed up how we share and disseminate knowledge across Europe.



Ladies and gentlemen,

If Marie Curie Programme promotes mobility, it is also about enhancing excellence in Europe.

Many renowned scientists are for instance actively involved in Marie Curie Actions. In the past five years, they have included Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Professors Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg in 2007 in Physics. I would like here also to mention Professor Luisa Torsi, who received the Analytical Sciences Merck Award this year. And given the inspiration of Marie Curie, it is worth saying that Professor Torsi is the first woman to receive this prestigious prize. I am actually pleased to say that about 40% of Marie Curie fellows are women – which means we are ahead of the curve in gender equality in the research field

Without trying to name them all, the Actions have led to major discoveries, publications, and patenting, whose results have benefited Europe and the rest of the world.

However, if we want to keep and increase the level of excellence in European research, we need to attract more and excellent people towards these carriers. I firmly believe that one way to attract excellent people into research is by improving job conditions. The human aspect of research cannot be disregarded, as it has often been in the past.

Concretely, this means encouraging favourable employment contracts with full social security rights, a decent work-life balance, support of the family and transparent recruitment procedures.

But, if we want to advance science and underpin innovation in Europe, we must call on all our talents and attract the talents from abroad. We must aim for an open, single labour market for highly-skilled, creative and entrepreneurial researchers, free from all forms of discrimination; welcoming researchers with diverse skills and varied career paths. I am therefore very pleased to say that within the Marie Curie Programme, around 11 % of the total budget is dedicated to the so-called social sciences and humanities, and if we count economies, it is an additional 3 %.

Eventually, for excellence to flourish in Europe and to cope with the future needs in researchers, we need to inspire and motivate the future researchers from the early age. Science, Maths and Technologies must become much more attractive to the young generation. In that perspective, I am considering the possibility to build on the Marie Curie Alumni Network, and create a mentorship scheme allowing Marie Curie Fellows to transmit directly to the youngest in schools their passion for research. We have now 50 000 alumni, they must become the ambassadors of Research in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we are to promote a smart growth, we need also to strengthen Innovation in Europe.

In line with the 'Innovation Union' flagship, we need to push forward the boundaries of knowledge and excellence, and turn that knowledge into innovation - innovation that can improve our health, protect our environment and lead to a higher quality of life, in other words, face the multiple and global challenges of our societies.

I am thinking, for example, of the discoveries of Milo Malanga, whose Marie Curie funded research led to a sugar-based anti-cancer drug.

Marie Curie actions allow researchers to choose their research topic freely allowing cutting across traditional disciplines. This is key to finding solutions to the increasingly complex challenges we face.

But for innovation to foster, and as President Barroso strongly sated, we must also break down the walls that keep the worlds of education, research and business apart, and develop new connections between the public and private sectors. It is crucial to connect the three sides of the knowledge triangle. By developing more opportunities for collaboration between research organisations, universities and private commercial enterprises, in particular SMEs, we will help young researchers to enhance both their research and their business-related skills.

In that perspective, I believe we need to launch, within Marie Curie, a European Industrial doctorate Scheme. Indeed, University-led research and innovation has marked up huge successes in many parts of the Union. But partnerships with business are more than markets for new ideas. They help researchers develop the business flair that turns research into a commercial proposition. And they make the walls between education and business more permeable: if people can forge careers that move in and out of the two worlds, knowledge and know-how really will transfer across.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the years, Marie Curie Actions have opened up new opportunities for researchers to develop their careers and expertise through mobility and transfer of knowledge, training and skills.

Marie Curie Actions will continue to support the highest quality to researchers, and to multiply expertise, knowledge and innovation in the European Research Area.

But before we look ahead, let us focus on this year; and on one of the special reasons we are here today: to celebrate the 50.000 researchers having benefited from a Marie Curie grant.

We can't fit 50.000 researchers on the podium! But I am delighted that 25 Marie Curie fellows have agreed to represent this significant number. They embody the diversity of the support granted by Marie Curie.

First from a geographical perspective as they are from 17 different nationalities, 17 of them are EU citizens, when 8 of them are coming from third countries such as Japan, India, Brazil, Israel, Iran, Serbia or Croatia

Their fields of research is also very diverse, in medicine for some with research in treatments against Alzheimer, Leukaemia, Parkinson or gynaecological cancers, but also in information and communication technologies with specific software, wireless systems and multimedia services on line. Others are focusing on physics with the emergence of nano-tubes, or in the fight against climate change with the use of microalgae to obtain bio fuels but also on how to enhance the performance of wind turbines.

They truly represent the innovative power of Europe and it is therefore my great pleasure to invite them to join us here.


Let me close by saying that I believe in our capacity to meet all the great challenges ahead. As Marie Curie said: 'Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.'

I am delighted that the Marie Curie Actions continue to channel our intellectual and creative energies into an understanding on which to build our 21st century Europe.

Thank you.

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