Published online 17 September 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.925

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Wanted: a chief scientist for Europe

Commission president pledges to hire top adviser.

BarrosoEC President José Manuel Barroso has attached 'central importance' to research and innovation.AP Photo/T. Charlier

President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has promised to create a position for a European chief scientist and to review the way the Commission uses scientific advice — a move welcomed by researchers.

Barroso made the pledge in a speech on 15 September at the opening of the newly elected European Parliament, which yesterday also voted to extend his office for a second term.

"In the next Commission, I want to set up a chief scientific adviser who has the power to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery," he said.

Barroso also said that he would set up a Commissioner for Climate Action ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December — a move that would, he said, "send an important signal to the world that, independent of the level of ambition that comes out of Copenhagen, Europe is serious about maintaining momentum for action".

The creation of the chief scientist post would "reflect the central importance I attach to research and innovation", he added. Barroso will oversee a new Commission which takes office in January.

“If the post is created properly it will be a great thing for Europe.”

Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker
uman Frontier Science Programme Organisation

European scientists have been quick to approve Barroso's intention, but caution that care must be taken to ensure that the incumbent does indeed have the appropriate power and status to be able to do a successful job — something that is not easy to achieve in the complex political and administrative machineries of the European Union.

"The chief scientist should be able to sit in meetings with not only the Commission president and the Commissioners, but also the director-generals who have considerable independence in administering the individual directorates," says Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, former secretary-general of the European Research Council who is now secretary-general of the Human Frontier Science Programme Organization in Strasbourg, France.

"If the post is created properly it will be a great thing for Europe," he says. "Science creeps into all areas of policy and you need a strong personality to ensure that everything can be coordinated."

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The European Research Area Board (ERAB), a foresight committee of high-level scientists and research policy-makers that was created last year, is also to propose a chief-scientist position in its first report, due to be published on 6 October.

ERAB chairman John Wood, head of the faculty of engineering at Imperial College London, says Barroso's proposal is "really pleasing". The EU needs a "strong, identifiable, independently-minded person with the authority to speak for science in Europe", he says.

Such a person should be able to make a television appearance the moment something scientifically important happens — such as an outbreak of infectious disease, or when there is a political debate with scientific content such as genetically modified crops, he says. "In a sense, this person would be the scientific conscience of Europe." 

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  • #60147

    Well, I find this article a bit odd. Why does a woman have this post interesting? I confess I do not understand too actually but you must have your reasons to relay this info. We learn that this person is not well known by his peers and therefore, it has everything to prove. OK! But what is truly possible relevance? If someone wants to meet me.

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