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Prodi - researcher mobility can contribute to European Renaissance

European Commission President, Romano Prodi called for a 'new European Renaissance', turning centres of learning in to 'world class centres of excellence', when speaking at a conference on 'an enlarged Europe for researchers' in Brussels on 27 June. The conference came followi...

European Commission President, Romano Prodi called for a 'new European Renaissance', turning centres of learning in to 'world class centres of excellence', when speaking at a conference on 'an enlarged Europe for researchers' in Brussels on 27 June. The conference came following a communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on 'a mobility strategy for the European research area' on 20 June. Mr Prodi was joined by Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin in addition to representatives from research institutes, academia and industry in the Member States and candidate countries in a round table discussion on the barriers to researcher mobility, particular problems relating to movement between the EU and the accession States and possible solutions to these difficulties. Issues arising during the presentations and questions included the concept of 'brain drain', bureaucratic, legal and financial barriers to mobility, intersectoral mobility and benchmarking. 'There can be no Knowledge Society without new knowledge. And the main source of new knowledge is research,' said Romano Prodi. 'It is no exaggeration to say that research must be the driving force behind the new European Renaissance,' he said. Mr Prodi compared the European Situation with that in America, saying that 'many of our brains have ended up - and are still ending up - on the wrong side of the Atlantic'. 'Ironically, Europe has no problem putting together excellent football teams consisting of players from several EU countries. Putting together excellent research teams seems much harder,' he added. Philippe Busquin claimed that bureaucracy is one of the key obstacles to researcher mobility, and highlighted the irony of the fact that it is often more difficult for a non EU researcher to move between EU Member States than it is for them to enter one from outside the EU Several speakers stressed however that bureaucratic, financial and legal barriers are not the only issues preventing researcher mobility, referring to human attitudes. A representative from the UK's Royal Society pointed to the situation in the UK, where he said that, unless there is a very special reason for a scientist to go abroad, they are very reluctant to go. He added that it is just as difficult to get British scientists to go to Japan, despite very favourable return benefits. He reported that, in his experience, joint projects make mobility between countries easier for researchers. Commissioner Busquin drew attention to the other side of the equation, bemoaning the protectionism that exists in many universities. Many universities still only take on researchers who have studied at that university, he said. He called for an Internet portal so that research posts can be advertised throughout the EU. He also called for a mobility centre, to provide practical assistance for researchers and their families moving to a new country. Mr Busquin also stressed that national and EU research programmes must be consistent, and that this is where the Commission comes in. The Commission has to encourage the pooling of resources, he said. Some attendees expressed concerns about brain drain, which they suggested could be limited with the introduction of return bursaries for researchers who have been working abroad. The issue is currently under discussion in the Commission. Norbert Kroo, Secretary General from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest rejected fears of brain drain, citing evidence that the number of researchers moving abroad and not returning has remained consistent over the past 20 years. He stressed that the repercussions of the brain drain threat are predominantly positive as it puts pressure on policy makers to improve domestic conditions. He referred to a decision in Germany to give computer scientists a green card. This caused much concern in Hungary, but actually very few people left and conditions meanwhile improved in Hungary. Tackling financial barriers to researcher mobility can could be done by following the Scandinavian example, Mr Busquin claimed. He alluded to a recent Swedish policy of reducing the tax burden for high level researchers going to Sweden for three years. Similar initiatives are being implemented in Denmark. 'Maybe we'll be following the Scandinavian example,' he said.