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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions -Driving innovation and Growth in Europe
People 2012 Conference – University of Cyprus /Nicosia
5 November 2012
It is a real pleasure to be here with you for the opening of today's conference.
I would like to thank the University of Cyprus for their help in organising this event and for welcoming us, in this venue.
Europe is today facing certainly one of its most serious economic crises with more and more Member States being urged to conduct fiscal consolidation. However, our message is clear. We must conduct a smart fiscal consolidation preserving and even prioritising growth enhancing measures. We need to invest in the human capital of Europe. We need to invest in our researchers, especially in such difficult economic times.
They are the sources of our future growth in Europe because, researchers are precisely the bright people who push the boundaries of knowledge forward, make new discoveries and find new solutions thanks to their innovative ideas.
The situation is serious: we know that by 2020, we will need more than one million new researchers in Europe if we are to address the societal challenges ahead: ageing population, energy and natural resources, new technologies.
Our ambition is to make Europe an attractive place where to study and do research so it can also attract more young people to take up scientific careers. Europe's future ability to generate growth and jobs depends on our ability to become a world class science performer.
And this is precisely the objectives of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, in existence since 1996. The Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions are an initiative that we can all be proud of in Europe.
The successful cross-border collaboration, that it supports, gives a real boost to researchers' creativity and their careers. And it has proved to be such an important instrument to motivate people to enter, or re-enter, the profession of research.
The figures speak for themselves: Between 2007 and 2013, the Marie Curie Actions will have awarded close to five billion euros to 50,000 researchers pursuing their careers in Europe - 10,000 of whom are doctoral candidates. And I am happy that many Marie Curie Fellow are with us today to share their experience of this direct support of Europe to Research.
I am especially delighted that this morning we will be awarding the first Marie Curie Prizes for Communicating Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Promising Research Talent. We will have the opportunity to listen to their extraordinary work.
For the past sixteen years, the Marie Curie Actions have helped to connect research, education and innovation - the three sides of the knowledge triangle. They combine excellence in research with top-quality training in order to foster innovation skills.
They promote the international and cross-sectoral mobility of researchers, and offer attractive career development opportunities of a high professional standard.
Therefore, for several years, the Marie Curie Actions have been an important tool for creating a true Innovation Union. A European Union where it has become easy to conceive and develop new products, industrial processes and services. A European Union that thanks to its research and innovation performance can support sustainable growth.
The importance of Marie Curie Action is recognised both by the research community and the political decision makers. This is the reason why the Commission has proposed within the global envelop of Horizon 2020, an increase in the budget – from €4.7b to €5.75b - for the future Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions to give more support to the career development and training of researchers in all scientific disciplines. A crucial meeting is planned in the coming weeks (22nd/23rd of November) at the level of the heads of states and governments on the future budget of the EU.
I really urge the European Parliament and the European Council to support this increase for the budget of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.
In our proposal for the future programme, and besides the budget, there is strong continuity with the current Actions. Mobility, excellence and innovation will continue to be the key features of the future Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action.
My proposal also foresees a streamlining of the actions, reducing their number and strengthening the doctoral training elements. But the Actions will still maintain a strong international dimension.
The new Actions are to become the main EU programme offering support for doctoral training, including joint doctorates. And for the first time, there will be co-funding for regional, national and international programmes in Europe that train early-stage researchers and offer a transnational mobility experience.
We expect the new Actions to contribute to the career development of around 65 000 researchers.
As many of you here can testify, Marie Curie researchers come from, and go to, many countries of the world. 130 nationalities and host organisations in 80 countries participate in the programme. 30 per cent of FP7 Marie Curie Fellows are from outside the EU.
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions within Horizon 2020 will build on all these achievements and carry them forward. Indeed If we want to keep and increase the level of excellence in European research, we need to attract more and excellent people towards these careers.
While Horizon 2020 represents a clear break with the past in terms of its approach, great care has been taken to ensure continuity and complementarity also with other activities such as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, as well as with policy reflections on modernising higher education.
However, if we are to promote growth, being excellent in research will not be sufficient, we need also to strengthen innovation in Europe.
Europe needs more entrepreneurial researchers, who have the eagerness and courage to think in new ways.
The Marie Curie Actions acknowledge this and strongly promote the interactions within the "knowledge triangle". We launched the Industrial Doctorates, bringing the researchers over to the industrial sector for at least half of the duration of their PhD. The first four-year projects are now underway, as is the case for the Innovative Doctoral Programmes initiative.
The new programmes will seek to increase this trend, as it is a way to enhance the quality of doctoral training in Europe.
A well-known traditional weakness in Europe's research landscape is the limited involvement of the private sector. But that is not true of the Marie Curie Actions, which manage to involve to a significant extent in particular the small and medium enterprises that form the backbone of Europe's economy.
Our aim with the industrial doctorates is precisely to increase further the business participation within Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.
But a focus on small businesses does not mean focusing on small research projects on marginal topics. Quite the opposite. Although the Marie Curie Actions are open to research in any discipline – provided that it is excellent research – since 2007 more than half of the available funding has been devoted to projects in fields related to key societal challenges. And we expect this trend to continue in the future programme.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last year we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the second Nobel Prize in Chemistry of Marie Skłodowska-Curie.
First woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two, and the first person ever to win in multiple sciences, she remains a byword for scientific excellence.
I could not resist today paying tribute to an exceptional woman, a true European Researcher, who dedicated her life to scientific research.
And I am proud that the EU contributes to keeping her legacy alive with the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, especially among young researchers, and in particular women who represented until now 38% of the beneficiaries among the programme.
Maria Skłodowska-Curie has shown us that scientific achievements can have a direct and positive impact on people's lives. As she said, "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."
So let's make sure the future of Researchers in Europe remains bright. You can count on my full and personal commitment in this endeavour in the coming days and months which are to be crucial.
Thank you for your attention.