German National ERA Conference, 10 October 2015, Berlin Kongress Center

Embracing an ERA of Change

Minister Wanka,

State Secretary Schütte,

Presidents of the Alliance,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Minister Wanka: thank you for inviting me to Berlin to discuss the future of our European Research Area!

As we all know, ERA is established under our Treaty and constitutes the main instrument at EU level to bring together and reform our national research systems.

ERA's slogan is 'an open space for knowledge and growth'.

Those who know me understand how much I value openness.

I chose as the defining drivers of my mandate "Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World".


Openness makes us more effective. It makes us more competitive. And it provides the necessary answer to the worrying trend of protectionism we are witnessing in recent times.

Open science, open innovation, and open to the world are not a departure from ERA. They are at the very heart of ERA.

So this conference is very timely.

I would like to take this opportunity today to raise two points:  

1. First, your national ERA action plan.  

2. And second, to look at the future of ERA within the Framework Programme.


So, let me go to my first point, your ERA Action Plan.

Germany is to be commended for being the first country in the EU to adopt a National Action Plan, one that shows real progress as well as a vision for the future.

I see two reasons why I believe your plan is an example for the rest of Europe: you have put emphasis on a new digital economy, and you look beyond your own borders, to support excellence in research in the entire EU.

On the first point: your National Action Plan clearly mentions your strategy for digital transformation in science, to take advantage of the opportunities of the rapid digitization.

I am especially pleased to see a spotlight on innovation and Industry 4.0.

Your High Tech Strategy, with a 34 billion euro investment, will deliver significant returns in your transition to a digital economy.

Furthermore, I strongly welcome the reference to 'digital ERA', to grant and expand access to publicly-funded scientific findings and data, or Open Access. Germany has an eye set firmly on the future.

Secondly, your strategy also shows a commitment to the wider European challenges, not just your specific national situation.

You have made it an explicit policy to strengthen ERA as a whole. You have embedded the fact that science is no longer a matter of national prestige, but of collective responsibility.


The German 'ERA Fellowships' initiative is an excellent example of this.[1] By aiming at at least one fellowship for each EU 13 countries, you not only help to build capacity and excellence in these countries. But at the same time, you improve your own networks. This is what I call a win-win for all involved.

As you may know, the European Commission has proposed to increase the budget of Horizon 2020 with an additional 400 million.

In my view, Widening actions, as well as the ERC, should get a substantial share of this additional budget.  

Let me now turn to my second point, on how I see the future of ERA within our Framework Programme.

I'll start with our next funding programme.

Naturally the discussion on the next Framework Progamme is only just starting. It will be a collaborative discussion, where all countries in Europe will have a say. Where scientists will have a say. Where innovators will have a say.

As you are aware, we have recently appointed Pascal Lamy to the High Level Group for the mid-term evaluation of Horizon 2020, and this group will naturally help us shape the future Framework Programme.  

I want to take the opportunity of being here today with you to lay out my views on the future of our Framework Programmes   for the first time.

I am strongly convinced that the core values of Horizon 2020 and its successor have to be Excellence, Openness and Impact.


Let me start with Excellence.

Our foundation stone has to continue to be excellent, curiosity-driven research. This has to be the core value. Not just reflected in the European Research Council, but throughout the entire research  and innovation ecosystem.

We have to improve our funding for innovation through well-targeted and accountable industrial partnerships. Or for disruptive start-ups to gain a foothold in the market through the European Innovation Council.  

Also this is based on excellence, which will prevent Europe from falling behind in market-creating innovations.

So these two issues, excellent fundamental science on one side, and applied science or innovation on the other side, are not mutually exclusive.

It was Louis Pasteur who said that "There are no such things as applied sciences but only applications of science".

That is why we, present here today, have to forcefully reject the simplistic and false dichotomy between the two sides.

Reality is instead a complex spectrum where an ERC grant can very rapidly find a market application, and a PPP with industry can then inspire fundamental research in the future.

Recently, a member of the Solvay family told me that one of his ancestors used to say that there is only one kind of science – "applied science": some of it already being applied and some that will be applied in the future, even if it is 100 years from now. 


My second value is openness – Openness is what binds everything together. It is the common denominator.

Europe desperately needs a culture of Open Innovation and Open Science. We need this to have a realistic chance of riding the next wave of innovation, and to increase the number of high impact papers.

Europe needs to fight protectionist instincts and understand that no single company or country, as large as it may be, can compete globally under a closed innovation model.

In science, growing complexity and specialization means that the most interesting findings are emerging at the intersection of disciplines. For that we absolutely need a model of open science, with open access to publications and data.

Europe also needs more openness in its international collaborations.

We are more interconnected than ever before. The global challenges we face, from health pandemics to climate change, make it essential to have a culture of international engagement in place.


My third key value for the next Framework Programme is that of Impact.

Impact also suffers from a standard misconception. We tend to shy away from this word. We do not want to appear to have a utilitarian vision for science. We fear being characterized as philistines, who fail to see that science is a good in itself.

Again, I fear we are falling into false dichotomies.

Perhaps the best way to make my point on impact is to use the words of the Dutch Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry, Prof. Ben Feringa, when he said last week:

"I hope there will always be the possibility of a 'playground' in which we can do research. You should be able to fall. Because only then do you arrive to discoveries. Not every discovery will lead to an application. But it does lead to knowledge and then an application will follow that can change the world."

So, we can have a culture that, on the one hand, promotes the measurement of the impact of research, while on the other hand, understanding, intellectually, that not all research will have a concrete and immediate impact.

I hope that in the next Framework Programme we can have a more sophisticated approach to this issue of impact.

We can do more to capture and measure different kinds of outputs – including the unexpected ones. Because sometimes results that we don't think have impact can have a huge impact in other disciplines. We have to work on cross-impact between disciplines.

We have an obligation and an incentive to be much better at understanding and communicating the impact of what we do. Not only to ministers of finance, but to the general public!.

So these core values of Excellence, Openness and Impact are ones that I want us to discuss during the interim evaluation and in designing the next Framework Programme.

This ties in very closely with the future of ERA. There is no doubt ERA has come a long way since its inception in 2000.

Now is the time to look ahead, at the future ERA. In my view, that means two things.

One, we should now turn our focus on implementation. This is the responsibility of the Member States. And of course you can count on the support of the Commission in doing this.

Two, we should look ahead at the developments of tomorrow. ERA has entered the digital age. It is up to us how we take advantage of it. There are new barriers to tear down.


To conclude, we are in an exciting time for science and innovation policy.

The world is changing fast, and we, as policy makers, have to adapt faster.

A successful ERA will lead to Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World.

From my part, from the perspective of the European Commission, we take inspiration from your work.

We are opening an exciting new chapter, where we will lay the foundations of our next Framework Programme, that will lead Europe into the third decade of this century.

It is a decade in which we need to kick-start the stagnant growth of productivity and jobs that we see throughout Europe.

These challenges depend on how successful we are in unleashing the full potential of science and innovation in Europe.

And for that we need to fight every day for a culture of Excellence, Openness and Impact embedded in ERA.

Thank you.