"Freedom is absolutely necessary for scientific progress"

Brussels, Neth-er 20th Anniversary, 26 January 2015

Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

Check Against Delivery

Dear Minister, Dear Mr Van Vught, Dear Members of Parliament, Dear Colleagues, and esteemed guests,

It's a great pleasure to take part in today's Neth-er 20th anniversary. I am grateful to Mr Van Vught for his very kind invitation to share in today with you. First of all, I'd like to say congratulations! Congratulations for 20 years of hard work representing Dutch excellence in education and research. The deep commitment of Dutch policy makers, research centres, universities, businesses and innovators, in bringing their input and expertise to Europe's table, is, quite simply, invaluable.

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An anniversary is an ideal time to reflect on the past and present, or to make plans for the next big milestone. I think we share many of the same goals and aspirations when it comes to seeing the Netherlands become an ever-more innovative, productive and open sphere for science and research. Member states have overcome a great deal of economic hardship in recent years. Still, I think today’s discussions and celebrations make it very clear that Europe can, and is, competing with the rest of the world. Competing through the achievements of its member states. Thanks to the resourcefulness of large and small nations alike, Europe continues to be a strong performer.

Our academics and companies are world leading. The EU remains the world's largest trading block, with 500 million consumers looking for goods, services and great ideas. And we benefit from being one of the most open economies in the world, producing one third of the world's scientific knowledge. The next step is to use that knowledge to make our economies more resilient: our breakthroughs more socially and commercially valuable.

We need to:

  • Squeeze every drop of potential from our publically funded research and innovation projects.
  • To make Europe an irresistible workshop for remarkable minds and new talents.
  • To continue leading global markets with European innovation.

Of course we won't get very far without putting our money where our mouth is. It is still, and will remain, critical to maximise the impact of public R&D funding:

  • By commercialising high-gain research projects;
  • By improving our national research systems; and
  • By removing barriers to new R&I business opportunities, such as open access to research results.

The Netherlands was an outstanding participant in EU Framework programmes. You received over three billion euro under FP7. I'm sure Neth-er had an important hand to play in that success. You can be very proud of what you've achieved. Allow that success to fuel your ambitions to go even further. You have all of the right the tools at your disposal:

  • An open, world-class science system, performing above the EU average in publications and PhDs;
  • Many booming, high-skill sectors, such as ICT, electronics and chemicals; and
  • An often pioneering policy agenda making the most of what you do best.

Take for example the Dutch National Technology Pact 2020: providing measures to adapt your education system to the evolving requirements of technology sectors. This was a brilliant, exemplary step in addressing the growing skills gap faced by many member states. But, if the Netherlands wants to fully exploit the vitality of its STEMM industries, and develop into an even more open, innovation-intensive economy, further investment and structural reform will be helpful. I'm talking about investment that stimulates business: placing Dutch research and innovation on global markets. I'm talking about structural reforms to make the most, and more, of the many assets you have at your disposal already.

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To help member states reform their national R&I systems, I will soon launch a new Policy Support Facility. A new instrument under Horizon 2020, to support Member States in the design, implementation and evaluation of priority R&I reforms through peer review: a hands-on policy learning exercise, to share best practices between Member States. Spreading know-how on how to support viable business investments in R&I.

Peer review has, of course, the greatest impact when combined with strong political commitment for reform at national level: commitment to kick-start the process, as well as to follow up on the outcome.  Already in the first half of 2015, Bulgaria will undergo a major peer review at the request of their national Science Minister. I hope the Netherlands takes full advantage of this opportunity for peer learning. Just as it might benefit from the new European Fund for Strategic Investments.

EFSI seed capital will leverage at least 315 billion euro of additional public and private funding over the next three years: capital that will benefit research and innovation across Europe.  The overall investment in innovation, leveraged by the EU budget – through the ESIF along with strategic synergies with Structural Funds and other funding mechanisms – will be higher than Horizon 2020 could have ever raised alone. Giving even more firepower to Horizon 2020.

If your country's participation in FP7 is anything to go by, the Netherlands only stands to benefit further from these new opportunities under the Juncker Commission.

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I realise 2015 and 2016 will be important for the Dutch. First the preparations, then the responsibility of your forthcoming Presidency of the EU. This will be a vital chance to leave your very inspiring mark on our community until the next one comes around. My services and I are ready to provide you with every support.

Your emphasis on Open Access to scientific publications, in particular, could not be more in line with what I hope to achieve through Open Science over the course of my mandate. I think the Netherlands can contribute a great deal to policy discussions on this matter. You are already leading by example. We need to shift our focus from publishing as soon as possible, to sharing and collaborating as soon as possible.

Public investment in research and innovation should have the greatest social and economic benefits possible: improving the public relationship with our science systems and opening research results to new innovation and business opportunities.

Big and open data alone, could be worth an extra 1.9% to EU-28 GDP by 2020. To remain prosperous and competitive, to continue leading the forefront of learning, this is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.

But I know I'm preaching to the converted.

I know Dutch universities are determined to remove fee-paying access to their academics' publications.

I know your Minister for education announced last year that all Dutch research publications should be open access by the year 2024.

Expensive fees for publically funded research results, that could be of benefit to citizens, must end, and new business models put in place. This is one of many areas where your leadership and experience could bring new standards to Europe's science and research community.

Open Science, of which Open Access is an important part, will be vital to ensuring European progress and prosperity in the future. Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza illustrated this point more eloquently when he said, said:

"Freedom is absolutely necessary for scientific progress".

The Netherlands can help us to meet that goal, by sharing its ideas and ambitions.

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I wish you a great deal of enjoyment this evening, celebrating Neth-er’s long list of achievements: its excellent work in support of a stronger and more competitive European economy. Many thanks again to Frans van Vught for inviting me and many thanks to the Minister Bussemaker as well.

Finally, thank you all for your attention and enjoy the reception!