Missions and the European imagination
This week Commissioner Moedas outlined his vision for European research and innovation (R&I) in the European Parliament and at the German Rectors’ Conference meeting in Brussels. European R&I can inspire: for instance, stories about the discovery of new planets generate curiosity and excitement, and nobody can deny the positive impact medical advances have on societies. The economic case for research and innovation is also very clear – without new discoveries European jobs will be at risk, as discoveries will be made and commercialised elsewhere.
Ideas about the next Framework Programme (FP9) clearly seek to build on these twin aspects: exciting citizens and ensuring their livelihoods through quality jobs. This is to be welcomed, and the opportunity of inspiring citizens about science and innovation is a task for all those engaged in it. We need to do this much better, and that includes scientists, universities, and journalists. But if science and innovation are to contribute to the future of Europe, it cannot just determine change – it must also ensure that transformation does not compromise the well-being of citizens.
Many European citizens are deeply unsettled by globalisation, the accelerated pace of technological change, and the social, cultural and demographic transformations they perceive. The recent German elections have shown that even a country with an excellent record in research and innovation is not immune to citizens that are unsettled by change. We need now, more than ever, to unearth – and popularise – the meaning of change, its cultural and social implications, and suggest positive strategies for responding to it.
If the FP9’s missions-based approach is designed to bring about transformative research and innovation to the lives of citizens, it must aim at the end-goal of that transformation, and also be mindful of its social and cultural effects, and the anxieties change may trigger.
In short, we need a vision to kindle the European imagination: a vision that excites the mind for science, makes the material case for why we need it, and addresses the well-being of citizens through times of dramatic change.