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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Science and Research

'Scientific Publishing in the European Research Area' – Access, Dissemination and Preservation in the Digital Age

Opening address at the Conference – Charlemagne building
Brussels, 15 February 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning,

I'm pleased to be opening today’s conference and I would like to welcome you all here to Brussels. I am looking forward to the input this conference will produce for the future policy on scientific publishing in the European Research Area. I am confident that the results will benefit all of those concerned with scientific publishing in Europe.

Let me start by addressing one question: why are we here? It’s a simple question and it has a simple answer: it is because the world has changed. And part of this change has been in the norms, the expectations and the demands of research and researchers.

It is important that we make progress in this area. Why? Because the EU's future depends on a knowledge society. The debate about how that knowledge is disseminated is fundamental. It takes in a lot of important issues – sales, copyright, jobs, access and funding. But ultimately, it's about the conditions for spreading knowledge.

Nearly all new research builds on previous work. So the access to scientific results, how rapidly this access is given and the cost of access all impact on research excellence and innovation.

Scientific publishing is also the system which determines the process of peer review: the central mechanism by which scientific quality is guaranteed. This in turn plays a key role in scientists’ professional careers. And consequently this has an impact on private and public research funding decisions.

What are the changes we need to confront? We live in a digital age. The world is constantly changing, at high speed. This doesn't just mean that we have newer technology faster than before. It also has seen rapid changes in the way information is used.

We are in the middle of an information revolution: something which has been called Internet 2.0. It features the active participation and involvement of the users, which results in constant improvement and generation of content and information.

People are uploading, not just downloading. People are adapting and improving information, as they do with open source software. People are contributing and interacting – like they do in blogs – including my own.

In short, information is being treated differently, across the world.

This is not news to many of you. After all, many of these changes came through researchers anyway. But it is new. And it means change.

New technologies offer new opportunities. The scientific publishing system has already adapted, with publishers moving towards the online availability of the majority of scientific journals.

But today's conference is not about previous adaptations, but future ones. Because, as I say, change is constant in the digital age.

The European Commission has been closely following the debate on experiments with open access to scientific information. We have also been contributing to the debate through the study on the scientific publishing market that we commissioned last year.

I am aware that – sometimes controversial – discussions on open access are taking place between scientific publishers and the scientific community.

This was clear from the replies we received to our online consultation last year on the study. The consultation showed that while the respondents from the scientific community warmly received the report and its recommendations, the publishing industry was mostly critical of its methodology and conclusions.

Of course there are two sides to any story.

I recognise the investment that the publishing industry has made over the years. It offers new tools, services and technologies in line with the digital revolution.

This has been highlighted in the Declaration on STM publishing adopted by the publishing community two days ago.

At the same time, the digital revolution has led the European scientific community to suggest that an alternative publishing model, with better access to research publications, could further stimulate research excellence and innovation.

In the EU, there have been two major recent statements on the issue.

In December 2006 EURAB - the European Research Advisory Board - composed of 50% research community and 50% industry representatives - recommended that the Commission (and I quote) “consider mandating all researchers funded under [the seventh Framework Programme] to lodge their publications resulting from EC-funded research in an open access repository as soon as possible after publication, to be made accessible within 6 months at the latest".

The second statement was by the Scientific Council of the European Research Council, Europe's new funding body for frontier research. It stated its “firm intention [...] to issue specific guidelines for the mandatory deposit in open access repositories of research results [...] obtained thanks to ERC grants”.

This "open access" movement is neither new nor limited to the EU. For example, 199 organisations from all over the world have signed the 2003 Berlin Declaration, which states – and I quote "our mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if the information is not made widely and readily available to society"

Changes are already underway. The Welcome Trust, for example, has recently outlined that any publication it financially supports must be deposited in a public repository within six months of publication. A similar movement is also underway in the US.

Just this morning, a research community delegation presented me with a petition of over 19.000 signatories from around the world calling on the European Commission to guarantee public access to publicly-funded research results shortly after publication.

The Commission has a role to play in this evolution and we have already made a first move. Yesterday, the Commission adopted a Communication on access to scientific information in the digital age. My colleague, Viviane Reding, will be discussing this more in detail later in the conference.

The Communication announces a series of measures on how the Commission will deal with open access in FP7 funded projects - and how it will use its funding programmes to improve the access to and the preservation of scientific information. This will include, for example, promoting the use of project costs for open access publishing under FP7.

I have outlined several positions. Allow me to give an idea of the factors influencing my position.

Over the next 7 years, the EU will invest over 54 billion euros in research and development. I want every euro of this funding to contribute in some way to developing a true European Research Area and creating a strong European knowledge society. That is my job. The European Commission, and, indeed, the European citizen, must get a good return on its investment.

So far, funding bodies and the public money more generally have tended to contribute multiple times to the research process.

They fund the research to be performed through research grants.

They also support peer review, in the sense that they usually pay reviewers’ salaries.

Finally, they often acquire the final scientific journal publications for research organisations.

From a research funding body's viewpoint, there is room to improve the impact of research on society and the development of knowledge.

There is no quick fix. That is why this conference needs to look at how we can find a way forward.

The two main questions facing us today are to see:

  • First, how to offer the research community rapid and wide dissemination of results, facilitated by new information and communication technologies.
  • Second, how to combine this with fair remuneration for the scientific publishers who invest in tools and mechanisms to organise the information flows and the peer review system.

A healthy scientific publication system is a key element of successful research activity.

Together, we must be able to find a way where improved access to scientific information could benefit everyone. Increased access should lead to more research activities, a strengthened European Research Area and therefore increased publishing activity.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am excited to open this conference and I truly look forward to embarking on this challenging process with you. I am not making any conclusions at this stage. It is up to you to work through these issues together and I am looking forward to your feedback and input.

What is clear is that there are areas where we have choices - and areas where we don't. Change is inevitable – we have no choice there. But the way we adapt to this change does involve choice. Now is the time to act and I hope we can do it in an inclusive way.

And I would like to finish by reminding everyone that we are all united in at least one belief – that knowledge is the most precious capacity we have.

Thank you.

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