Dear Minister Heitor,

Honourable Ministers and distinguished participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to start by thanking the Portuguese Presidency for organising this informal meeting.

I wish you, Minister Heitor, and your team good luck for the next six months of Portuguese Presidency of the EU and you can count on the support of all around this virtual table to advance on the main priority files.

Our societies and our economies are badly hit by the pandemic.

We see the light at the end of the tunnel but we still have a long way to go.

For me, we will not start tomorrow.

We started more than one year ago with bold initiatives to try to get the pandemics under control.

Even if we see progress in particular in areas where science plays a role – like the unprecedented time to deliver vaccines – we have big socio-economic challenges ahead of us.

In fact, the development of vaccines is a good example to start. We have invested in knowledge, we provided good conditions for our researchers to work on new science and we have harvested the fruits.

Everyone is conscious that much more work is needed on the vaccines targeting the COVID 19 pandemics and, more in general in preparing for future similar threats including microbial resistance, which is already today a threat to global health.

That means, strengthening investments and in conditions to attract new cohorts of researchers that will shape a world-class European science space.

These conditions are a mix of investments in infrastructures, on frontiers of science but also on people, on instruments that can foster pan-European collaborations improving the access to excellence.

What I said for the health sector, applies to all areas of science and advanced technology:

  • from industrial production transformed by robotics and artificial intelligence to advanced transport and mobility technologies
  • from earth observation and environmental monitoring with applications to address climate change to new technologies for sustainable energy production and storage

As I said, our societies and economies need bold initiatives to rebuild, repair and create new things.

Our citizens expect that we take this opportunity to do it in a way that looks at the future. That is were we have the bulk of our responsibility based on two precious lessons from this crisis:

  • First, now more than ever Research and Innovation are essential in the every-day life of our citizens, our societies and our economies.
  • Second, together we are stronger and capable to face any situation.

On this basis, we need to work on a transformative research and innovation agenda, while ensuring the interface with the EU policy priorities.

We have two important EU initiatives European Research Area (ERA) and the European Education Area (EEA) that you had the opportunity to debate during the German Presidency and propose Council Conclusions that I very much welcome.

We have advanced a lot on the framing conditions but with your support, experience and contributions I think it is now the time to fasten the seatbelt and move ahead.

[On the European Research Area and the ERA Forum for transition]

The Communication on the new ERA – adopted on 30 September – and the Council conclusions adopted on 1 December are the first steps in this direction.

We are progressing fast on the preparation of the new ERA governance.

I am happy to announce that tomorrow, on 4 February, the Commission will launch the ERA Forum for Transition.

Here I would like to stop for 30 seconds to thank your support and the efforts of my services in setting it up in a record time.

In about 90 working days form publishing the new ERA Communication we are ready for the first meeting, with the high-level experts that you indicated sitting around the table – hard to believe!

This Forum will be the forge where Commission and Member States together will discuss R&I policies and set the priorities that will guide our actions.

The Forum will notably help us design and implement the ERA priority actions identified in the New ERA Communication and in the Council Conclusions.

When I am told that this is an Expert Group focusing on designing the new ERA governance and related mechanisms I translate it into a simple messages:

  • This is the Group that will assist us and draft the Pact for Research and Innovation, that the Member States will be asked to voluntary endorse at the highest level.
  • A Pact that puts our citizens at the centre, side by side with our scientific community, our research organisations and our industry, small and big.
  • A Pact based on fundamental European values, that strikes the balances, but at the same time is bold in proposing a new European Research Area that projects the Union in the future.

[On Research careers]

We say that Research and Innovation results depend on the work of trained and skilled citizens, our researchers.

Let me insist that citizens can be at the centre of research in many ways. For instance in the context of education or of data collection in areas such as biodiversity where an anonymous young student can send a picture of a rare butterfly so that an expert biologist encodes a new entry in the book of species…

Discussing the future of research careers is important and timely.

Improving researchers working conditions, reducing precarious employments, encouraging mobility and supporting the communication of scientific results is crucial to ensure great results and maintain Europe at the forefront in Research and Innovation.

To promote attractive research careers it is important to strengthening the synergies between education, research and innovation.

In this context, the Commission has planned a number of initiatives, on which we will need to work together.

These initiatives will allow us to develop a coherent and coordinated approach to ensure a systemic change that would tackle the obstacles in the professional development of our researchers.

We will develop an enhanced Framework for Research Careers within the EU European competence framework and analyse the trends in the research labour market careers, skills and talent.

It will work as an Observatory on Research Careers to monitor and recommend measures to facilitate circulation of researchers. Indicators such as remuneration, mobility patterns and employment conditions need to be taken into account.

We will also address issues affecting researchers, such as the recognition of the research profession and qualifications in national legislations, precarious working and employment conditions.

It is crucial to consider the risks of draining out the research base that endangers the socio-economic development. This phenomenon needs careful analysis promote knowledge circulation by means of collaborations in a balanced brain circulation to ensure balanced mobility of talents.

To respond to the current challenges, the Commission is also working on a revamped and more ambitious Charter & Code for Researchers.

Being able to get information on the research trends and the mobility prospects is also an important aspect in a researcher’s career. The ERA Talent platform, the successor of EURAXESS will deliver on it in a simplified and more effective way than before.

The new ERA also aims at incentivising researchers to pursue a career outside academia through enhanced inter-sectoral circulation schemes.

The measures to reinforce these mobility patterns will figure in the ERA4You initiative. The objective is strengthening the academic-business cooperation and involving the private sector in training and skills development of researchers.

These will develop in synergy with the EU flagship programme for research careers, the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions, which support the training and mobility of researchers in all scientific domains, at all stages of their careers and from all over the world.

They encourage transnational, inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary mobility with a specific focus on skills fostering innovation.

Under the new version of the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions programme, new incentives will help boost inter-sectoral cooperation by exposing more fellows to the non-academic sector, and support will be provided for a more balanced brain circulation

Finally yet importantly, we need to reform the assessment of researchers and research and incentivise more open collaboration, social engagement, knowledge and data sharing.

It is the sum of these main actions and many others that will promote the attractiveness of this crucial profession.

These actions would lead to nowhere without the political will to reach clear objectives.

I am sure that under your Presidency, Minister Heitor, we will be able to make great steps in this direction.

I am going to listen to the debate and hearing your ideas and rest assured that my services and  I stand ready to give you all the necessary support.

Thank you!