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Particle physicists challenge EC rebranding

23 November 2019
EC building
The European Commission announced its new commissioners in September. Credit: European Commission

An open letter addressed to the presidents of the European Parliament and the European Commission (EC) demanding better recognition for education and research has closed, having attracted around 13,600 signatories during the past two months.

Published on 17 September by a group of eight prominent particle physicists in Europe – Siegfried Bethke (MPI for Physics), Nora Brambilla (TU-München), Aldo Deandrea (U-Lyon 1), Carlo Guaraldo (INFN Frascati), Luciano Maiani (U-Roma La Sapienza), Antonio Pich (U-València), Alexander Rothkopf (U-Stavanger) and Johanna Stachel (U-Heidelberg) – the letter followed the announcement of a new EC organisational structure on 10 September in which former EC directorates for education, culture, sports and youth, as well as that for research, science and innovation, have been subsumed under a single commissioner with the titular brief “innovation and youth”.

“Words are important,” says Maiani, who was CERN Director-General from 1999–2003. “Omitting ‘research’ from the logo of the EC is reason for concern. The response we received, including from prestigious personalities, reassured us that this concern is widely shared.”

With signatories including hundreds of university and laboratory leaders, 19 Nobel laureates and many institutions including the European, French and German physical societies, the letter demands that the EC revises the title of the brief to “Education, Research, Innovation and Youth”. It states: “We, as members of the scientific community of Europe, wish to address this situation early on and emphasise both to the general public, as well as to relevant politicians on the national and European Union level, that without dedication to education and research there will neither exist a sound basis for innovation in Europe, nor can we fulfill the promise of a high standard of living for the citizens of Europe in a fierce global competition.”

Of course we are disappointed that the voices of more than 13,600 scientists went unheard

Johanna Stachel, University of Heidelberg

The letter closed on 13 November after the EC issued a press release stating that it will rename three commissioner portfolios, but that the title of commissioner designate for innovation and youth, Mariya Gabriel, is not among those three being changed. “Naturally we are disappointed, and even frightened as the decisions about non-renaming prove that the omission of research and education in the title signals how low these fields may be valued by the new commission,” says Bethke.

“We will keep pushing,” adds Stachel. “But of course we are disappointed that the voices of more than 13,600 scientists went unheard, despite many prominent voices and also significant press coverage.”

On 18 November, Rothkopf responded to European parliament president David Sassoli on behalf of the initial signatories with a letter, stating: “It is with great disappointment that we recognize that the voice of science has not reached the ears of the Commission. The intention of the Commission is to stimulate innovation. But we reiterate with force that without research and education there is no future to innovation… We are counting on you, Mr. President, to represent the voice of all European citizens who have signed up as supporter of the open letter and in the interest of European research.”

Update 28th November: Speaking at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 27 November, European Commission (EC) president-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced that the brief of commissioner Mariya Gabriel would be been renamed “Innovation, research, culture, education and youth”. The addition of “education” and “research” to the initial title of the brief announced on 10 September was met with applause in the chamber.

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