STM Conference, 18 October 2016, Frankfurt Book Fair

Open Access in a time of change


[Check against delivery]


Thank you very much Michael [Mabe] for this invitation to speak with you today. I would also like to thank Michael for being a member of our Open Science Policy Platform.

Today's conference is about innovation and the future.

But let us start by considering how far we have already come – by going back to the year 1991.


A physicist, Dr Paul Ginsparg, had just started a new job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

For the first time, he had his own computer on his desk. This was at the time when the internet was at the experimental stage. When no one had heard about online journals. And most scientists were still sending their draft papers to select colleagues by post.

Dr Ginsparg recognised the need to open up discussions in his field – and the potential of new technology.

So he decided to launch what he called an 'electronic bulletin board'. He designed it to simplify the exchange of unpublished papers. Starting with a community of a few hundred scientists in the specialised field of theoretical high-energy physics.

Little did he know, but Dr Paul Ginsparg, now a Professor at Cornell University, had kicked off the modern Open Access movement.

His 'electronic bulletin board' has grown to become ArXiv [pronounced Archive]. A repository of over 1 million e-prints. It has become a key resource for an international community of researchers.

In 1991, Dr Ginsparg's readiness to innovate moved us from a world where research results were only accessible through print journals to one where scientists could openly discuss and exchange their findings.


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Twenty-five years after the inception of ArXiv, we have come a long way towards a world of open science.

Researchers continue to develop new forms of collaboration, using the latest digital technologies and tools.

Open content is transforming how scientific knowledge is created, processed, and used.

Scientific publishers are making research papers free to access and read. Many of you here today have been at the forefront of this movement.

Thanks to these efforts, Europe has now passed the 'tipping point' of 50% of articles being openly access.

I am committed to completing the transition to open access by 2020. Because open access improves science. And because it  engages citizens.  

Today, I would like to talk to you about:

1. Why open access is one of my political priorities.

2. The common goal that all EU Member States have agreed for open access;

3. The opportunity this represents for scientific publishers.


So to my first point: why open access is a priority.

I made my case for open access at a major conference in April in Amsterdam. Many of you attended.  

Open access contributes to scientific excellence and integrity. It opens up research results to wider analysis. It allows research results to be reused for new discoveries. And it enables the multi-disciplinary research that is needed to solve global 21st century problems.

Open access connects science with society. It allows the public to engage with research. To go behind the headlines. And look at the scientific evidence. And it enables policy makers to draw on innovative solutions to societal challenges.  


And fundamentally, I think the public have the right to see the results of the research they have invested in.


This brings me to my next point: the common objective we have set for open access in Europe.

It has taken us 25 years to get to the half-way point. But we cannot afford to wait as long again to complete the transition to open access.

This is why, at the beginning of my mandate, I defined the goal of open access to all publicly funded research by 2020.

In May, the EU Member States unanimously declared their agreement to this ambition. This agreement is set out very clearly in the Conclusions of the Competitiveness Council.

Public funders at the European and national level now stand united behind this clear goal: open access to the results of the research we invest in by 2020.

We now want to see urgent and substantial progress towards this goal.

To achieve this, I am committed to engaging with all stakeholders – universities, research funders, and especially the publishing sector.

As you know, at EU level we are already leading by example. Open access is already mandatory for all research publications funded under Horizon 2020. Funders in some Member States have similar requirements. Others are beginning to follow suit.

But we know that the transition to open access can only be successful if we address the barriers. And put in place the right incentives.

For example, we need to look at how scientific success is measured. And make use of alternative metrics that do not rely solely on scientific publications.

We need to make sure that public spending for open access represents good value for money. And that the market is functioning properly. On a fair, transparent and sustainable basis.

Indeed, the publishing industry has a key role to play in making the transition to full open access a success.


This is what my third point is about.

This is a time of change for the scientific publishing industry. The transition from pay-to-read to free-to-read requires new business models.

Does this mean the death of publishing? Far from it.

This means a different kind of publishing. And many of you are showing the way.

Indeed, the range and creativity of new tools and business models already on offer is very encouraging.

Take for example modern peer-review and publishing platforms, like Scholastica, The Winnower and F1000. These allow open access publishing alongside rigorous scholarly discussion on scientific papers.

Or look at powerful new tools such as Sparrho. This combines human and artificial intelligence, to give the user personalised scientific information.

And there are many more examples.

Real competitive advantage will come from these kinds of innovations.


We are moving rapidly towards full open access. I am proud that Europe is ahead of the curve.

We have the first mover advantage.

This is a golden opportunity for European publishers.

To be at the forefront of global open access publishing.

You have my full support for a strong, diverse and innovative publishing sector.

One which – like ArXiv – finds new ways of making digital technology work for scientists.

One which turns such innovation into successful new business models.

And one where open access to scientific results, data and software will fuel more and better innovations.

I hope that through our discussions today, and in the months to come, we can realise this goal together.

Thank you.