At last, a chief scientist for Europe

Lost in the small print of José Manuel Barroso’s wide-ranging address to the European Parliament yesterday was an important commitment to science.

Barroso, who was today re-elected to a second term as European Commission president with a strong majority, promised to set up a chief scientific adviser for the next commission.

He or she will have “the power to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery. This will reflect the central importance I attach to research and innovation,” Barroso said.

The commitment follows a campaign by John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientist, and other research advocates, for the EU to have a scientific adviser who could act across the commission’s various directorates-general. (And by the way, Mr Barroso, how about simplifying nomenclature in the new commission, so that directorates-general become simply directorates?)

Janez Potočnik has been an excellent research commissioner over the past five years but he does not have the over-arching responsibility of the proposed European chief scientist, who would deliver advice across the board, on issues from health to energy and climate change.

The job must go to someone who is both a first-rate scientist and an excellent communicator. People who would fit the bill (though I have no idea whether they would be interested in the post) include: Frank Gannon, molecular biologist and head of Science Foundation Ireland; David King, chemist and former UK chief scientist; Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, head of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute; and Fotis Kafatos, the Greek biologist who chairs the European Research Council.

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

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