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Science Europe plans to make itself heard

Funders’ group starts out with 50 members and €2million

Science Europe, the organisation that will represent national research bodies in Brussels, has set out its agenda to influence EU policy and help shape the development of European research priorities.

The organisation, which will merge the association of research-funding agencies Eurohorcs with the Strasbourg-based European Science Foundation, held its founding assembly in Berlin on 21 October. Paul Boyle, the chief executive of the UK Economic and Social Research Council, who was elected president at the assembly, said that the balance of Science Europe’s activities was “not spelt out clearly” yet. But it would be split roughly 50:50 between lobbying and setting research priorities through six committees, dealing with different scientific disciplines.

Science Europe will represent at least 50 member organisations that either fund or perform research in 23 countries. Together, its members distribute over €30 billion of research funding every year, said Dieter Imboden, president of the Swiss National Science Foundation, who laid much of the groundwork for the creation of Science Europe.

Science Europe plans to beef up its Brussels office from about two staff members at present, to between 15 and 20 employees in the first year. Its members agreed to contribute a combined €2 million to run the office for that period. This budget will increase, as ESF is wound down over the next few years.

The organisation will not give out grants, but will present itself as a “third power” in EU research policy alongside member states’ governments and the European Commission. It also aims to improve cooperation between national research agencies, for example through bilateral or multilateral agreements that make research grants portable from one country to another.

“Science Europe will work closely with the Commission to influence how money is spent,” said Boyle. “Our first task will be to look, with the Commission, across the [research funding] landscape at what works well or perhaps not so well.”

In terms of research priorities, Boyle said “the priority for the first year will be to set up the six committees [that] will provide a direct representation of European science and scientists.” These groups, inspired by the ESF’s own foresight and advice activities, will be set up early next year. They will be made up of “eminent scientists” who will represent their disciplines, not their countries, says Imboden.

Peter Tindemans, head of science policy at the similarly named researchers’ organisation Euroscience, says that creating Science Europe is a good move that will help national funding agencies to be heard in Brussels. “They are hardly represented in formal policy discussions; with Science Europe they would be in a much stronger position to influence policy,” he says. But he adds that Science Europe cannot represent researchers in the same “grassroots” way that Euroscience represents its individual members.

Geoff Boulton of the University of Edinburgh, UK, warns that Science Europe should make sure that its committees don’t come to represent only the entrenched interests of long-established researchers. He says the ESF fulfilled an important role by providing a creative forum for scientists, in particular for younger researchers, and Science Europe should preserve this spirit.

Eurohorcs and ESF members voted on the merger and set up of Science Europe earlier this year, but ESF narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to sanction a full merger. Eurohorcs was formally dissolved on 20 October, while ESF is expected to be wound down over the next few years.

One of Science Europe’s two elected vice-presidents, the Swedish Research Council’s former director Pär Omling, has been recommended as the next ESF president for 2012-14. This double mandate will ensure a link between the organisations, Boyle said.

Next issue Marja Makarow, CEO of the European Science Foundation, looks back over its life.