06/10/2021

Reflections from the new EU Science Counselor to the U.S.


 

Last month, the European Union Delegation to the United States welcomed the new Counselor for Research & Innovation. With significant experience in those areas, we asked him to mark the start of his tenure with reflections on the current state of transatlantic research cooperation and the road ahead. The following piece will be included in our upcoming quarterly newsletter.

 

The key to EU-U.S. cooperation in Science, Research, and Innovation

Upon my arrival in Washington, DC in September as the new Science Counselor of the European Union Delegation to the United States, the first visit I made was to Mount Vernon, the residence of George and Martha Washington. In the historical house, one object struck my attention: a key. Not any key though, it was a key from la Bastille offered by Lafayette!

The key unlocked evocations on the century-old ties between Europe and the USA, which have a particular resonance in today’s geopolitical context. Indeed, although of socio-economic origins, the French and the American revolutions were accompanied by the same aspiration for freedom and equality, stemming from the philosophy of the Enlightenment, which spread throughout Europe in the 1700s. Our shared EU-U.S. common values today, including a commitment to the rule of law, the democratic process, free enterprise, human rights, and alleviating poverty, stem from that period.

 

Shared values and the conduct of Science

Fully integrated in their enterprise, Enlightenment thinkers also improved and fine-tuned empirical knowledge and the scientific method initiated during the Renaissance: that is, knowledge verifiable by reference to experiment, experience or first-hand observation, and in rejection of the argument of authority. It is also the development of this method that allows us today to have the necessary tools to analyse our past through critical thinking. Most importantly, it is the reason why science and values are inseparable for us.

 

Openness and the circulation of knowledge is in Europe’s DNA

The spread of the scientific method throughout Europe in the 1700s was made possible thanks to the millennial old tradition of scholars’ mobility, dating back from the Greek philosophers and renewed with the birth of European Universities in the Middle Ages. This tradition of mobility continues today thanks to the European programs Erasmus+, the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions, and the European Research Council grants.

It is also the mobility of these different actors across the European continent that led, and still leads today to the coherent cultural, artistic, philosophical, and scientific European area.

Again, the link with the U.S. is clear: scholars, researchers, and innovators’ mobility extended to and included the American continent: the birth of universities on the American continent is an extension of the European movement. It has been a major feature of the scientific ties between Europe and the United States ever since, allowing for the incredible worldwide scientific and technological progress we all know today.

 

Together in a changing world

These centuries-old openness and shared values are of particular importance in today’s changing world witnessing geopolitical tensions rising, with knowledge and technology at its core. I have been working on R&I cooperation with India for many years and with China more recently. More and more countries are becoming strong research and innovation powerhouses, and it is important to cooperate internationally. It is also important to recall and celebrate the development of science all around the globe and across the centuries, in India, China, or the Persian and Arab worlds. Because more than ever the world’s researchers and innovators need to be mobilized to develop innovative solutions to face global challenges such as the climate and health crises. We have seen the power of international cooperation during the COVID crisis.

Today, in order for this openness to work, as European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, Mariya Gabriel said, we also need a clear framework that creates a level playing field on issues like ethical and people-centered research, the fair treatment of intellectual property, and reciprocal access to research program.

 

The new Global Approach to Research and Innovation

As a response to this changing world and to the increased necessity for a global response to challenges, the European Union adopted its new strategy for international cooperation in Research and Innovation[1], reaffirming its commitment to reciprocal openness while stressing the importance of the respect of fundamental values in the conduct of science and the use of technology.

As a major partner, the EU aims at further strengthening its already extensive cooperation with the U.S. The search for solutions to global challenges will be of highest importance, in particular for the climate crisis millions of people are already suffering from around the globe, and of course for the COVID-19 pandemic and the next ones to come.

 

A new project for Humanity

I elaborated on our history for a good reason: it is important to go back to the roots of our shared values, to revisit them and adapt them to the new reality. For instance, the emancipatory project of the Enlightenment thinkers originally based on the critical autonomy of the individual and the natural individual rights should today integrate the environment and propose a new notion of progress that would lead humanity in a new era[2]. We have a collective responsibility to do so, and it is a particular responsibility for EU and U.S. researchers to reflect on the meaning of their research and innovation.

 

Bastille Key – George and Martha Washington Residence – Mount Vernon (photo: F. Bernard)

 

 


[2] ‘Les Lumières à l’âge du vivant’ - Corine Pelluchon – Seuil

 

 


 

Biography:

 

Florent Bernard, PhD

Counselor, Research & Innovation

Delegation of the European Union to the USA

 

Florent joined the EU Delegation in Washington, DC in September 2021 as the Counselor for Research and Innovation.

Prior to his current posting in the U.S., he was International Relations Officer for China at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation in Brussels. He also held the position of International Relations Officer for India, Innovation Policy Officer and Scientific Officer at the European Commission.

Florent holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. He also studied in the US at the University of Georgia through the Georgia Rotary Student Program, and in Florence, Italy through the Eramus program. He carried out post-doctoral research in Barcelona, Spain before joining the European Commission.

Florent is an Honorary Citizen of the State of Georgia, USA.