EU Science Hub

Interview with new JRC Director-General Stephen Quest

Stephen Quest brings a wealth of experience since first joining the Commission in 1993
Stephen Quest brings a wealth of experience since first joining the Commission in 1993
May 04 2020

This month the Joint Research Centre welcomes Stephen Quest as its new Director-General.

Mr Quest first joined the European Commission in 1993. He has significant experience at senior management level and has been Director-General of the department for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD) since 2016, a position that he held up until coming to the JRC.

As he takes up his new role, we discussed how he sees the JRC adding value at the interface of science and policy, during this very challenging time and beyond.

What are you most looking forward to in this new role?

I’m really looking forward to discovering the full spectrum of the work of the Joint Research Centre, and the contribution that it makes across all Commission policies. While I have had the privilege of working on a fair number of specific policies over the years, the JRC has a fantastically broad perspective, and that will be an exciting vantage point for me to have. 

I also very much like pushing 'at the edges', playing with innovation and making things happen – both in terms of policy delivery and organisational development. The fact that we are civil servants should not stop us experimenting and trying out new ideas. The JRC provides a unique platform within the Commission to bring together science, policy, current challenges and future thinking. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the JRC at the moment? And the EU in general?

Obviously, the biggest challenge facing us right now is the COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it.  I know that the JRC is fully mobilised on this, and is making a remarkable contribution in a wide variety of ways. Beyond the immediate health aspects of the crisis, the EU will be fully focused on the recovery for the immediate future.

Yet more broadly, we are also facing the twin challenges of climate change and the need for a green transformation, and the deep and pervasive impact of digitalisation on our societies and economies. These deep trends are impacting almost all EU policies, one way or another. The JRC has a key role to play in providing the knowledge, understanding and scientific underpinning to guide and support our policy responses to these shared challenges.   

How do you see the JRC contributing to making good policies for European citizens?

The JRC provides reliable and accurate science, knowledge and evidence for European policies. This is of fundamental importance. Good policies rely on strong evidence and sound science, and this is all the more important in times of crisis or social and economic disruption.

Our citizens need to trust decision-makers, and decisions that are based on sound science are the bed rock of such trust. The JRC therefore has both to maintain leading-edge scientific excellence and ensure that this excellence is fully mobilised and leveraged in a policy-relevant fashion.

You’re coming to the JRC at a difficult moment in time, during the coronavirus pandemic. How will this affect your approach to the job?

My basic approach to the first phase of the job will not change: I will be listening, learning, asking questions and getting to know people. Of course, in the first weeks I will have to do more of this virtually or digitally, and less of it face-to-face. But the aim will remain to bring an open, inclusive and collaborative management style to the organisation.

As soon as I can, I will visit the different sites and meet the teams in person. In any case, the geographical spread of the JRC means that a lot of interactions necessarily take place online. My experience from previous jobs (for example managing IT in the Commission, with staff split between Luxembourg and Brussels) is that this can work well provided there is trust and transparency, and these words will remain my guiding principles in the JRC.