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Speech at the Royal Society of London - Science without Borders

Met dank overgenomen van C.M.F. (Carlos) Moedas, gepubliceerd op maandag 23 maart 2015.

Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

Royal Society of London Lecture

Professor Poliakoff,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

Needless to say, it is a great honour to speak here today.

The Royal Society of London is a chronicle of legacies. The legacies of men like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

And new chapters created by women like Dame Athene Donald and Ulrike Tillmann.

I don't wish to try to convince you of anything today. I'm preaching to the converted.

I simply wish to share my views as a politician, who believes in science and innovation as the true drivers of growth and prosperity, and as unique tools for diplomacy.


The United Kingdom has made countless contributions to the progress of European science and research.

We come together 350 years after the first issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

  • The oldest surviving scientific journal.
  • The journal that pioneered peer review.
  • The journal that created an international model for sharing scientific knowledge.

We share a remarkable scientific history and almost limitless potential.

The European Union is founded on the principle of openness: to people, commerce, investment and ideas.

And, it will be our openness that ensures our global standing in research, science and innovation in the years to come.

That is certain, because today the way we review, access and communicate scientific information is changing fundamentally.

Science without borders isn't just about national borders.

The model set by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is being transformed in the digital age.

The way we think about and measure excellence is evolving. Evolving at a time when the physical and digital worlds are merging.

New and exciting industries, rising from the convergence of several disciplines at once:

  • Health with information technology.
  • Marine ecology with molecular science.
  • Robotics in driverless transport.

This is an opportunity to innovate in a very European way:

Through diversity of people and talent.

Bringing our commercial aspirations into line with the needs of citizens and the limited resources of our planet.

The PharmaSea project is a perfect example. With EU research funding, it brings together 24 partners from 13 countries to study marine microbes, and bioactive compounds.

Research that could lead to new medications, antibiotics and nutritional treatments.

PharmaSea unites researchers in the fields of marine genomics, biosynthesis and chemical structure analysis.

Teaming up with the world’s largest free chemical database and top chemical software company − a multitude of disciplines and technologies in action.

The sheer amount of data at our fingertips, the sheer amount of opportunities for collaboration, is overwhelming.

The next big challenge is how to bring everything into the same timeline.

I want to make Europe home to each and every new approach.

The European Union provides the perfect testing ground for new methods and ideas. We have made sure it is!

We have invested a great deal in each other, because we know these contributions work.

Let me tell you a story.

  • 1. 
    The European Research Council

About ten years ago, Lord Sainsbury, the UK Science Minister was on a plane. He was going to the Competitiveness Council meeting of research ministers.

In his briefing was the official UK position to oppose the creation of a European Research Council.

The briefing said there would be no added value in individual, EU-funded grants for basic research. This could be done better by individual member states surely?

Fortunately, Lord Sainsbury took a risk. He had listened to scientists, who strongly believed in a European Research Council.

So, when he stood up to present the UK position, he changed it. A man of courage.

Since those days, the ERC has supported close to 5000 grants.

Financing the people whose discoveries can start new industries, create new markets, and improve our quality of life.

People like Norwegian husband-and-wife team Professor May-Britt and Edvard Moser, who discovered Nobel Prize winning proof of the human brain's inner navigation system.

Many of those grants have gone to researchers at British universities, making a huge contribution to scientific excellence in the UK.

The ERC's work is made possible by Horizon 2020. The EU programme for research and innovation funding.

The biggest multinational research programme in the world.

Today, science cannot advance in only one discipline, one country or one university. Science must be freed from borders of any kind.

A few days ago, I was in Kiev to sign Ukraine's Association Agreement to Horizon 2020.

The first time Ukraine has been associated to an EU programme.

I told Ukranian Scientists that we need them, as much as they need us. We cannot walk alone in a world where speed and collaboration are essential.

Horizon 2020 represents thousands of projects, organisations, companies, experts and scientists united by curiosity.

Billions of euros dedicated to improving the world we live in.

The world we share. The world we will pass on to future generations.

It is a radically new and comprehensive approach to the European Union's research funding policy.

Horizon 2020 has brought focus and openness to European science.

This is an amazing achievement!

And − in just the last five years − Europe has witnessed many great achievements for science without borders.

Discoveries made by taking risks together!

  • 2. 

Let me take you back to 1993. When the United States' plans for a Super Collider were halted by Congress.

20 kilometres of tunnel in Texas had been dug. Over 2 billion dollars had already been spent. Public opinion was generally favourable.

But amid a national recession and mounting costs, political support had faded.

Had it reached completion, the Super Collider would have dwarfed Europe's Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

The greatest discovery in physics for a generation. Evidence of the Higgs particle. Might have occurred on American soil, rather than among the suburbs of Geneva.

I can understand the political pressure that brought an end to America's Super Collider.

It isn't easy to justify spending money on elusive particles, while citizens face economic hardship.

It's risky to invest millions into something you cannot guarantee will work.

Investment in science is a long-term commitment.

It might pay off in 1 year, or 100 years.

It doesn't win elections, but it is the best investment we can make in our prosperity and progress.

When it achieved first beam, more than 10,000 people from 100 countries had worked to build Europe's Large Hadron Collider.

Scientists from Iran and Israel, from India and Pakistan, began to study particles at a resolution 1000 times smaller than the proton:

  • United in asking fundamental questions about the laws of nature.
  • Science without borders at a European centre of excellence.

It was at CERN that the World Wide Web was invented. Invented, so that physicists around the world could share data.

An innovation, that would swiftly change communication, commerce and education for over 3 billion people worldwide - with implications for intellectual property, copyright and computing.

And it is the Web that is now changing science itself:

  • Allowing scientists to collaborate in unprecedented ways.
  • Enabling non-scientists to join in experiments and make new discoveries.
  • Providing wider access to journals.
  • Supporting vast quantities of data to be shared openly.

The world's biggest experiment has had many wonderful and unforeseen results!

This month, after two years of planned maintenance and upgrades, the Collider is primed again.

Ready to smash particles at twice the energy it did when the Higgs Boson was discovered.

And we can only imagine what will be achieved by this multinational cooperation next.

  • 3. 

Such bold, frontier research is central to advancing excellence and innovation in an increasingly globalised world.

But, how and whether we choose to invest in science and innovation is crucial too.

In the negotiations on the European Union's 7-year budget, a tough decision was taken.

In the face of economic crises − and with a reduction, in real terms, in the overall European budget − research funding was actually increased.

In this new mandate, the European Commission wants to make more high risk, high value investments in research and innovation, not less.

We want to make sure Europe has the best conditions to benefit from excellence, innovation and openness in science.

If we want to remedy the fact that we still haven't achieved investing 3% of GDP into research and development, we have to try something new…….

The scientific community fought hard for Horizon 2020 to have the unparalleled budget it has today.

Because it makes sense.

Because it creates knowledge and prosperity.

I want to bring even more to the table.

Does that mean sowing the seeds of innovation through grants and project proposals? Yes!

But that also means putting money into high risk, high value investments.

The new European Fund for Strategic Investments will do exactly that:

Financing projects with high risk, high value profiles: in strategic infrastructure, education, research, innovation and more.

315 billion euros of public and private funding to be leveraged over the next 3 years.

That means more money for European research and innovation, not less.

I know that some people are skeptical of fundamental science attracting private investment, or even loans.

But let us consider how the Large Hadron Collider was financed. The Collider that has thrown up so much more than expected.

The European Investment Bank lent 300 million euros to CERN in the final phase of the Collider's completion.

300 million euros in loans towards the construction of an unprecedented experiment.

An experiment no one could be certain would work the way they hoped.

So, a high risk, high value investment from the European Investment Bank was needed to get Europe's Large Hadron Collider off the ground.

Now it's making discoveries and raising up tomorrow's international human capital in a broad range of applied sciences and engineering.

  • 4. 
    Leading International Cooperation

So, I have touched on science without borders in Europe; science that transcends sectors and disciplines; and innovation generated through investment.

I'd now like to look beyond Europe, to international research cooperation.

What I believe to be Europe's most outstanding contribution to the world:

  • Where we have a common challenge,
  • Where scientists want to collaborate,
  • And where there is a political opportunity,

Our innate fascination for revealing the secrets of the universe is a powerful, uniting force for mankind.

The journey is as important, if not more important, than the results we achieve.

My Harvard Professor, Linda Hill, says we must "embrace creative abrasion".

We must amplify, rather than minimise our differences to spark innovation.

That's why I believe in Europe. Our diversity and our differences are the key ingredient for innovation.

And most powerful when solving the greatest challenges faced by humanity.

In recent months, EU research efforts have been on the front line in the fight against Ebola.

The scale of human tragedy caused by the outbreak required nothing less than immediate action:

An unprecedented effort to mobilise over 200 million euros of European research funding in a matter of months.

Projects to develop vaccines and rapid diagnostics tests were successfully launched.

A momentous example of European leadership in international public health research.

And, there have been encouraging preliminary results.

Results indicating the antiviral drug (favi-pira-vir), may be an effective treatment for early Ebola disease.

The effectiveness of two candidate vaccines is currently being evaluated through clinical trials in the outbreak zone.

It hasn't been easy, but Europe is succeeding in setting new precedents for international cooperation in research.

Europe is bringing nations, scientists and citizens together to solve global challenges.

  • 5. 
    It's Our Research

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish there was time to cover more. I look forward to our discussion in a moment. And I welcome your questions on these and other topics!

Allow me to end by saying that Europe cherishes the United Kingdom as part of its community of scientific endeavour.

And, I hope that you cherish EU membership for its contribution to science.

Your membership is essential to the global standing of British universities and to their contribution to the British economy!

The EU funds British research:

  • It promotes the mobility of British researchers.
  • It creates jobs and opportunities for British scientists.
  • It provides the conditions for British discoveries.

And we are always improving EU support to research, science and innovation!

British science thrives in the EU and we thrive because of you.

The majority of the UK’s top 20 research partners are other EU countries.

You ranked first for number of applicants to our previous framework programme.

In the last two years of that programme, you received more funding than any other country, including Germany.

That's almost 7 billion euros of EU funds flowing to the UK in the form of over 17,000 grants.

Earned by your willingness, and ability, to compete for funding based on merit.

So, my ambitions for your place in Europe are immense.

And, in my view, your success rests on your openness.

On your engagement and contribution to European efforts for progress.

On the value of science without borders.

The real risk is to draw new borders.

I always want to see the United Kingdom at our table.

It is because of your participation, that the values of excellence, openness and innovation have been reinforced in Horizon 2020.

Excellence isn't guaranteed by your past, it's made by investing in your future.

By investing in our collective future.

By removing all borders from science.

As President Shimon Perez once said:

The value of country is not and will never be measured by square meters of land, but by the number of scientists per square meter.


Ladies and gentlemen thank you for your attention.

I look forward to learning from you this evening, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

I'm a great fan of everything you've achieved and I will always champion British science in Europe and the world!


General public inquiries:


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