From the President of Academia Europaea#Lars Walloe, August 2010
The Royal Society is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year, and both Nature and Science have published editorials discussing the role of academies. Nature describes the Royal Society as “a relatively successful model of what an independent national academy can achieve, having made itself both highly regarded in the corridors of power and prominent in public debates on major science-related issues.” The editorial mentions a few other successful national academies and concludes that academies “can still have a crucial role in taking scientific truth to the public, and to the heart of government. But to do so, they must constantly strive to properly represent an increasingly diverse scientific community.” The editorial in Science is by the current president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, who focuses on the “widening gap between what science allows us to do and what is prudent or ethical. Everyone should debate these choices,” he writes, “but the agenda must be guided by science academies and by individual scientific citizens ... There is a greater role than ever for the Royal Society and its sister academies around the world.”
Academia Europaea is only 22 years old, but our ambition is to play a similar role at European level to that played by the best European national academies in their own countries. We still have a long way to go to achieve this, but our standing and influence in European research are growing. The process has been helped by the new governance structure, which makes the Board responsible for all decisions of the Academy between the annual general assemblies. During the past year, the Academy has held talks with the Research Directorate-General of the EU, the European Research Council (ERC) and the Council of Europe about possible cooperation. It is too early to present any definite agreements, but the discussions have been promising. Academia Europaea presented an early and comprehensive response to the EU document Europe 2020, which has received a good deal of attention. (The Academy’s commentary is available on our website.) One of our aims is for Academia Europaea to provide independent input on science policy issues in Europe. When producing technical reports of this kind, the Academy collaborates with national academies of science in EU countries through the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC). The purpose of EASAC is to provide policy makers in the EU with authoritative scientific assessments on a wide variety of topics (environment, agriculture, energy, fisheries, health and food safety). This year our Board member (and former trustee) Brian Heap has been elected chair of EASAC for the next three years, and the Academy is looking forward to collaborating with him in drawing up advice on technical and science-related issues. However, current developments indicate that the European institutions will need advice from experts in the social sciences and humanities as well as the natural sciences. EASAC does not have the competence – nor indeed any ambition – to provide advice on issues related to the social sciences or humanities. As its list of members with expertise in these disciplines is expanded, Academia Europaea will be in a unique position to offer such advice. One of my ambitions is for the Academy to play an advisory role in the social sciences and humanities, not only for the EU, but also for the Council of Europe.
During the past year the President, the Vice-President and our new Foreign Secretary Jerzy Langer have been invited to give talks about science policy issues at various European meetings. (Some of the manuscripts are available on our website.) Our member Hermann Maurer and his team in Vienna have built up a new web-based directory of members which will be integrated with the Academy’s website within the next year. The new database will substantially improve opportunities for members and others to obtain updated information about the Academy and its activities. Theo D’Haen, a Board member and editor of the European Review, has made impressive progress in improving the quality and regularity of our journal during the last couple of years.
If Academia Europaea is to achieve its ambitions, it needs adequate funding for meetings and working groups, for publishing and for the administrative activities of its secretariat. The past year has been a difficult one financially. Some contributors were forced by the financial crisis to reduce funding, and it has been difficult to recruit new supporters. We hope the situation will improve in the coming year.
The real capital of an academy is its body of members. Academia Europaea still has a long way to go before all qualified scientists and scholars in Europe are members. For the Academy to be able to give sound advice on science policy issues and on specific topics in the social sciences and humanities, our members must be representative of an increasingly diverse scientific and scholarly community. The Academy now has about 2200 members. Despite this, many distinguished scientists and scholars in Europe who clearly qualify for membership have never been nominated. In the long run this is a serious problem, and Academia Europaea could lose authority and respect if this situation is allowed to continue. It is up to the members to bring about improvements. New members can be nominated either in the ordinary way through the sections, or in special cases through the President’s list. It is especially important to ensure the election of members in new or previously underrepresented disciplines (for example the new applied biological sciences), and from countries that currently have few and where younger scientists and scholars may be underrepresented – Russia is one example. The long-term goal is for all scientists and scholars in Europe to know about the academy and want to become members.