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A driving force

Robert-Jan Smits has big ambitions for his second term at the helm of the directorate-general for research at the European Commission, he tells Laura Greenhalgh.

Receiving guests in his spacious office in the Orban building of the European Commission in late December, Robert-Jan Smits looks very much at home. Smits is the Dutch commander-in-chief to the department’s Portuguese political figurehead, Carlos Moedas. After more than five years in the job, Smits says he’s still on a mission to realise some major ambitions for EU research and innovation.

Sitting at his walnut boardroom table with views of the Square Frère-Orban’s church spire, it soon becomes clear that these ambitions run well beyond Horizon 2020 and the administration of its €75-billion budget. “Our department isn’t just about handing out research funds,” he says. “I want to integrate science and innovation with economic policymaking at the highest level.”

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