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Geoghegan-Quinn leaves positive impression at parliament hearing

Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the prospective research commissioner, made a strong case for her nomination in front of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee today.

The question session, which will form the base of the committee’s recommendation for or against her nomination to Parliament, lasted three hours and included questions from every political group represented in the committee.Geoghegan-Quinn started off a little nervous, and got caught in jargon and phrases during her first answers. But she quickly found her footing and highlighted her plan to fill her term at the European Commission with action,changes and improvements.

Her past experience at the European Court of Auditors played into many of the answers she gave to the committee. Geoghegan-Quinn underlined that simpler rules for finance and administration in Framework 7 projects would improve industry participation, make research more effective and counter misspending. Easy rules would also significantly decrease the time it takes from the signing of the contract to the money being paid out, she said.

Geoghegan-Quinn made a number of concrete proposals for her term as research commissioner. She said she would be tough on national ministers who refuse to increase research spending to give renewed pace to the failed Lisbon Target of spending 3 per cent of GDP on research by 2010. Geoghegan-Quinn described herself as a strong supporter of the follow-up programme, the 2020 Targets, and said she wanted to make member states and industry understand that increasing research spending was the best way out of the crisis.

However,Geoghegan-Quinn also called herself a supporter of “unprofitable” research,saying that Europe would be in danger of losing opportunities if funding is too concentrated on projects that promise“impact”. She said Europe needed research in all areas to stay competitive in the face of rising science spending in China,India and South Asia. “Knowledge will soon become a commodity like fuel, and I want to work with the Parliament to make sure Europeand its member states are prepared for this,” she said.

However,Geoghegan-Quinn was cornered on this question, when she said that she would not cut back on any science field. MEPs asked her whether this would mean she would leave everything as it is, and not reprioritise or reorganise funding to meet the European research landscape’s needs. But Geoghegan-Quinn retaliated that she would indeed reprioritise, but hat she had no plans to cut out areas entirely,and would not change funding priorities without detailed assessments and consultations.

Geoghegan-Quinn voiced her support for plans to increase the number of women in research, but said she was against quotas. “I want to set targets instead,” she said. “Targets can be monitored and are a sign of real improvement if they are met.”

It was only on issues surrounding intellectual property that Geoghegan-Quinn’s answers left something to be desired. It was clear that her knowledge of the subject was, at best, superficial. However, during her final speech she told MEPs that she was aiming to get deeply involved in any field the Parliament wanted her to take on. “I want to asssure the Parliament that I want to work as closely as possible with you to make sure innovation and research will become policies at the heart of Europe,” she said.

Following the hearing, the committee is going to draw up a recommendation to the European Parliament whether Geoghegan-Quinn should be made the next research commissioner.A final vote on her appointment will be made on 26 January.