Coronavirus: Renowned scientist resigns on the grounds of politics and administrative formalities

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Prof Mauro Ferrari

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European Commission

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Professor Ferrari complained that his political skills in Brussels were “clearly insufficient”


The president of the European Union’s ERC Scientific Research Council has resigned after three months of work with an attack on EU scientific governance and political operations.

Mauro Ferrari said he had lost confidence in the system after failing to implement a special coronavirus control program.

The EU’s executive, the European Commission, regretted his resignation at such an early stage.

He said he had the most comprehensive measures to fight the virus.

An MEP was quoted accusing Professor Ferrari of taking a “public relations stand getting dressed”.

Mauro Ferrari is an Italian-American scientist known as a pioneer in the field of nanomedicine with decades of work in the United States. When he took office as head of the European Research Council, he underlined his commitment to serving society.

In a statement to the Financial Times and the Corriere della Sera in Italy, he spoke of his attachment to “the idealistic dream of a united Europe … crushed by a very different reality”.

As the tragedy of the pandemic became clear, Professor Ferrari said he had advocated for a special program to fight Covid-19, the best scientists in the world having the resources to fight it with new drugs, vaccines, tools diagnostic and behavioral science-based approaches “to replace the often improvised intuitions of political leaders”.

His proposals were unanimously rejected, he said, by the governing body of the council because the ERC funded “bottom-up” research proposed by the scientists themselves and did not consider the beneficial impact on society as a justification for funding.

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Professor Ferrari describes how he then worked directly with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and developed a plan to which she contributed.

However, he complains that his direct involvement with Mrs von der Leyen “created an internal political storm” and once he went to the different parts of the Commission, he thinks that he “disintegrated at the time of the impact ”.

The EU has often struggled to reach consensus on tackling the Covid-19 epidemic. Finance ministers suspended talks on Wednesday on how to help the southern euro-zone countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Talks were scheduled to resume on Thursday.

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After Professor Ferrari’s resignation, German MEP Christian Ehler said on the Science Business website that Professor Ferrari’s proposals were at odds with the legal basis of the ERC and constituted a “public relations stance to cover up the coronavirus crisis ”.

One of the conditions of an ERC grant is that scientists apply for “bottom-up” funding for research in a public or private research organization.

When he started working at ERC on January 1, he would have been allowed to continue some of the work in the United States in which he had participated. Science Business said the arrangement was unusual for the ERC and had already attracted outside criticism.

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Professor Ferrari said he had worked directly with Ursula von der Leyen


In his statement, a spokesperson for the European Commission stressed that the chairman of the ERC chaired the council and was a special adviser to the Commission, while the council itself defined the ‘strategy and methods of funding the ERC’.

Commission spokesperson said more than 50 ERC projects had been involved in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and that 18 research and development proposals had been selected in various scientific fields, from virology to social behavior .

Professor Ferrari said it was time for him to return to “the front lines of the fight against Covid-19, with real resources and responsibilities, far from the Brussels offices, where my political skills are clearly insufficient”.

The Commission said it was grateful for Professor Ferrari’s “strong personal investment” and wished him luck in the future.

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