EU chief scientist resigns, responds to coronavirus block


“I was extremely disappointed with the European response to Covid-19,” said Ferrari.

In addition to the failure to finance scientists to fight the crisis, Ferrari cited “a total lack of coordination of health policies between member states, the recurrent opposition to coherent financial support initiatives, the pervasive unilateral closings of borders and the marginal scale of synergistic scientific initiatives ”of the EU.

A spokesperson for the European Commission has confirmed his resignation.

With an annual budget of just over € 2 billion in 2019, the European Research Council distributes funds from the EU budget to star scientists to continue their research.

Ferrari said this dedication to supporting the scientists’ own ideas – without any instruction on how much to spend or the assessment of the potential impact – was detrimental in allowing the agency to help the response to the coronavirus.

He said his proposal that the council “establish a special program to combat Covid-19” was “unanimously rejected by the governing body of the ERC”.

“I thought at a time like this, the best scientists in the world should have the resources and the opportunities to fight the pandemic, with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new approaches behavioral dynamics based on science, to replace the often improvised intuitions of political leaders, “he said.

The Commission launched an emergency fund of 10 million euros for research on coronaviruses and also directed 45 million euros of its industrial partnership in the field of medicines, the Innovative Medicines Initiative, to develop treatments and diagnostics.

Critics of Ferrari have been challenged by German MEP Christian Ehler, coordinator of the European People’s Party for Parliament’s Industry and Research Committee, who also led negotiations on the next EU research program , Horizon Europe.

Ehler said in an emailed statement that Ferrari’s proposal to depart from the board’s usual approach “was seen more as a public relations stand on the coronavirus crisis and was in contradiction with the legal basis of the ERC, which can and does in many ways contribute to the fight against COVID-19. “

Ferrari also said it had been in personal contact with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to present his ideas, at his invitation. But that, he said, “created an internal political storm”.

“In times of emergency, people and institutions return to their innermost nature and reveal their true character,” he wrote, adding later, “I am afraid I have seen enough of it. both governance of science and political operations in the European Union. “

Ehler said that Ferrari had spent a lot of time in the first few months of working in the United States, which “had been widely viewed as a contradiction to the job description” and accused Ferrari of “never really knowing the independent character of the ERC “.

“We are sorry that it happened this way … However, that should not be used as an argument to accuse the ERC or the EU of not doing enough,” said Ehler.

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