Archive for European Commission

resignation of ERC president

Posted in University life with tags , , , , , , , on April 10, 2020 by xi'an

[Reposting the ERC Scientific Council statement about the resignation of Mauro Ferrari:]

The ERC’s Scientific Council notes with regret the statement made by Mauro Ferrari concerning his resignation on 7 April. We here present the facts of the situation.

On Friday 27 March, all 19 active members of the ERC’s Scientific Council individually and unanimously requested that Mauro Ferrari resign from his position as ERC’s President.

This request was made for four reasons:

  1. During his three-month term in office, Professor Ferrari displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison-d’être of the ERC to support excellent frontier science, designed and implemented by the best researchers in Europe. Although voicing his support for this in public pronouncements, the proposals he made to the Scientific Council did not reflect this position. He did not understand the context of the ERC within the EU’s Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020.
  2. Since his appointment, Professor Ferrari displayed a lack of engagement with the ERC, failing to participate in many important meetings, spending extensive time in the USA and failing to defend the ERC’s programme and mission when representing the ERC.
  3. In contrast, Professor Ferrari made several personal initiatives within the Commission, without consulting or tapping into the collective knowledge of the Scientific Council, and instead using his position to promote his own ideas.
  4. Lastly, Professor Ferrari was involved in multiple external enterprises, some academic and some commercial, which took a lot of his time and effort and appeared on several occasions to take precedence over his commitment to ERC. The workload associated with these activities proved to be incompatible with the mandate of President of the Scientific Council.

Professor Ferrari subsequently resigned on 7 April 2020. Therefore, his resignation in fact followed a written unanimous vote of no confidence. In contrast, Professor Ferrari has stated that the reason for his resignation is that the Scientific Council did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus. To address this point specifically, we did not support a special initiative because that is not our remit and the Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate General, with which we are connected, was already very active in developing new programmes to support this research through the appropriate channels.

Indeed, many ERC funded researchers have been active for some time in researching the coronavirus family and many other equally dangerous pathogens. Over 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects supported for a total value of about EUR 100 million are contributing to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing insights from several different scientific fields such as: virology, epidemiology, immunology, paths for new diagnostics and treatments, public health, medical devices, artificial intelligence, social behaviour, crisis management.

In addition, as stated on its website in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, the ERC offers ‘grantees the flexibility to adjust their research project”. This is an efficient measure because several ERC grantees already enquired about the possibility of addressing COVID-19 related research in their ongoing ERC project. All this information is publicly available on the ERC website, which also includes testimonies from funded ERC grantees on how bottom-up frontier research is critical to deliver new – and sometimes unexpected – insights relevant for better understanding and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for providing social behaviour and crisis management related solutions.

However, the ERC does not make calls for specific topics, since a guiding principle of ERC is that our researchers are free to pursue the goals they define and to decide on what they wish to work. In our view, this is a crucial way to generate the best science.

The Scientific Council wishes to clarify, in case of any doubt, that they absolutely endorse the view that scientific research will provide the best solutions to tackling pandemics, such as COVID-19.

Therefore, we regret Professor Ferrari’s statement, which at best is economical with the truth. This Scientific Council remains dedicated to pursuing the mission for which the ERC was established: the support of bottom-up ground-breaking research. It is also worth noting that despite the pandemic, the ERC Executive Agency is struggling against the odds to actively process applications for our Consolidator Grants and Starting Grants, which will support researchers throughout Europe to make the discoveries of the future.

The ERC Scientific Council

EU without education is like a bird without wings [apologies to ostriches]

Posted in Kids, University life with tags , , , , on September 21, 2019 by xi'an

[Reposting a call for keeping education and research in the EU commission denomination:]

The candidates for the new EU commissioners were presented last week. In the new commission the areas of education and research are not explicitly represented anymore and instead are subsumed under the “innovation and youth” title. This emphasizes economic exploitability (i.e. “innovation”) over its foundation, which is education and research, and it reduces “education” to “youth” while being essential to all ages.

We, as members of the scientific community of Europe, wish to address this situation early on and emphasize both to the general public, as well as to relevant politicians on the national and European Union level, that without dedication to education and research there will neither exist a sound basis for innovation in Europe, nor can we fulfill the promise of a high standard of living for the citizens of Europe in a fierce global competition.

President von der Leyen, in her mission letter to commissioner Gabriel, has emphasized that “education, research and innovation will be key to our competitiveness”.

With this open letter we demand that the EU commission revises the title for commissioner Gabriel to “Education, Research, Innovation and Youth” reflecting Europe’s dedication to all of these crucial areas. We also call upon the European Parliament to request this change in name before confirming the nominees for commissioner.

Please support this letter by signing up as a supporter via

ERC panel [step #2]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by xi'an

Another post that was written ages ago, about the second round of the European Research Council (ERC) panel on starting grants for mathematics in which I took part as an expert and not as an applicant. While anonymity possibly fell apart for the several dozens of applicants who were shortlisted for interview, in particular more like those few from my own field, the official list of the panel only came out much later. The interviews were quite interesting, obviously, with a strict attention to time and questions to make all interviews as “equal” as possible. And sometimes painful to attend as the candidates were visibly stressed and more over-prepared than not. Which did not necessarily help as the preparation, presumably with the help of local consultants out of maths, had removed some of the enthusiasm behind the project and too much of the maths. I think we all stopped breathing when one applicant broke mid-sentence, as in a theatre play when one actor forgets one’s lines… The rehearsal does not work so well for later questions, even though preparing for these is also essential,  and some upgrading or downgrading may then occur because of a single answer. An unavoidable limitation of the exercise.

Overall I remain impressed by the quality of the collective work of the panel [despite a gruelling schedule on interview days] and of the overall selection of eleven projects, even though it sounds like more theoretical and abstract topics seem privileged, in a bias that seems difficult to counteract. And [not because no statistics proposal was selected this time] making me (and others) wonder whether or not a separate statistics section of the ERC would not be more appropriate, since statistics proposals are not uniquely and solely centred on the maths aspects.

ERC panel [step #1]

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2019 by xi'an

Although this post was written ages ago, regulations of the European Research Council (ERC) prevented me from posting it until now, for confidentiality reasons. I was indeed nominated as an expert member of the ERC panel on starting grants for mathematics [a denomination including statistics, obviously, but also quantum physics or some aspects of it], which means evaluating a hundred-ish applications of young researchers (five years from PhD) to select about ten of them to be richly funded for the coming five years. The reason for secrecy is that the panel members have to be protected from pursuits from the candidates (or, more likely, from their senior mentors). While this is a pretty heavy commitment, above 20 days total, the evaluation process gets quite interesting and the most annoying part is to have to reject proposals that should be funded, were more funds available. (For obvious reasons, I cannot get into the details of individual proposals, but let me just bemoan that there were too few proposals connected to statistics!) I may however get into my appreciation of the collective work of the panel during the first step selection process. I actually knew no other member prior to my joining the panel and was impressed at how smoothly we managed to work together and incorporate different opinions in a joint perspective. When I re-read these sentences, it feels like langue de bois (double talk), really!, but they truly represent my feelings at the end of the meeting. Making me (almost) looking forward the second step of interviewing the selected candidates in another week-long meeting, again in Brussels, for the interviews and final selection and ranking. (Which is when anonymity falls apart.)


40 PhD fellowships in Paris

Posted in Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2019 by xi'an