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Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Celebrating the 1000th ERC Grantee

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Celebration of the European Research Council's 1000th grant

Munich, 24th June 2010

Dear Professor von Mutius, dear Minister Schavan, dear Minister Heubisch, dear Professor Huber, dear Professor Nowotny, dear Jack, distinguished guests and colleagues:

My sincere congratulations go to you, Professor von Mutius, for having been awarded the 1000th grant of the European Research Council. I am personally also happy that this grant has gone to a woman scientist. People like yourself provide a role model for all the young women scientists in Europe that are at the beginning of their career – and may encourage them to vigorously pursue their career further. In times where competition for knowledge and excellence is growing fast and at a global level, Europe needs to nurture all its human resources available in science and technology.

I have mentioned the increasing global competition for knowledge and excellence: while Europe is producing 33% of all scientific papers against 29% in the US, only 34% of all highly cited papers originate in Europe against 42% coming from the US. This analysis was the starting point for the ERC. The idea was that EU wide competition for excellence in research should enhance the quality of that research – the tougher the contest, the better the winner!

The core mission of the ERC was simple: to promote scientific excellence, irrespective of age, nationality or discipline and to recruit, repatriate and retain the most promising young scientists and the best established research leaders. The European Research Council was born – largely building on the model of the US National Science Foundation. But while it has taken the NSF 32 years from its launch in 1951 to reach a budget of €1 billion, it has taken the ERC only 3 years from its inception in 2007 to do the same.

The ERC is already showing that it can make a major contribution to Europe's efforts by funding the very best pioneering and interdisciplinary frontier research.

Today we can all be proud of what has been achieved: In a remarkably short time, the ERC has rapidly gained worldwide recognition as a world-class research-funding agency. And it has encouraged both the European university sector and Member State governments to set increasingly high standards for the quality of their own domestic research and to take structural reform actions to improve the quality of university research.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have been or are involved in this success. They are too numerous to mention all today, but I would in particular thank the first chair of the Scientific Council, Professor Kafatos and the First Secretary General Professor Winnacker, as well as the current Chair Professor Nowotny and Current Secretary General Professor Mas-Colell, as well as the first Director of the ERC Executive Agency, Mr. Jack Metthey.

As Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science I am fully aware that scientific knowledge is at the base of innovation and that investment in frontier research is crucial. At the same time I want to emphasize how important I consider the need to make the best use of new developments in science and research for the economic and social benefit of Europe. Our efforts towards knowledge creation must be matched by a comparable effort to turn that knowledge into tangible competitive benefits. The critical challenge for us is to find appropriate ways to link basic research with market opportunities, and to use it also as a tool for the renewal of our economies in Europe. After all, only a thriving economy can offer future jobs and provide opportunities for excellent researchers, including our young ERC grantees, whether in the public or private sector, in academia or in industry, as a Professor or an entrepreneur.

In the Europe 2020 Strategy the new Commission is putting research and innovation at the core of its strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Later this year the Commission will present, under my leadership, a Research and Innovation Strategy which will centre around the following objectives:

  • Focusing research and innovation efforts on the major societal challenges facing Europe and the world, which are both top priorities for policymakers and huge global market opportunities: these include climate change, energy security, food security, health and an ageing population.

  • Removing all the major bottlenecks to ensure the free flow of knowledge and to support 'open innovation' and to create a single market for research and innovation to foster competition for more excellence;

  • Ensuring that innovative companies, especially SMEs, get access to funding and that promising new ideas make it to the European and global markets.

The role of the ERC in this strategy is clear: Only research of the very highest quality at the frontiers of knowledge will provide the major breakthroughs that are necessary to address these "Grand Challenges", to promote the creation and growth of businesses in emerging sectors and to fully develop a knowledge and innovation society in Europe.

Investment in excellent people and research is an imperative not an option, particularly when the economic situation is unfavourable. It provides both an economic stimulus and is an investment for our future. Indeed at such times in the past individuals and organisations have shown themselves more willing than before to adopt and implement a wide range of new technologies and practices.

Ultimately, the ERC will be judged on the contributions which researchers, such as Professor von Mutius, will make to Europe and the world through their groundbreaking research.

Chosen on the basis of scientific excellence alone, these researchers must demonstrate the real value of the ERC. And I have every confidence that they will: by undertaking excellent research, moving forward the frontiers of knowledge, leading the way and proving that European science can match the very best in the world.

Thank you for your attention.

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