– The competition is ahead of us. If we stop cooperating, we shoot ourselves in the foot.

– The competition is ahead of us. If we stop cooperating, we shoot ourselves in the foot.

– Oh, my God! It's been almost three years already?

The President of the European Research Council, ERC (European Research Council), Maria Liptin, has checked into the hotel in Bergen, where she will participate in an event “dedicated to outstanding research”, as it is called in the presentation from the University of Bergen.

In 2021, two and a half years ago, to be precise, Leptin took over as CEO of the European Union’s big honeypot for elite researchers.


European Research Council (ERC)

  • The European Research Council (ERC) was founded in 2007 and is part of the European Union research programme, Horizon Europe.
  • The Egyptian Research Council funds pioneering research projects, regardless of nationality, field of study, and age, and provides four main grants: seed grants, consolidation grants, advanced grants, and synergy grants.
  • The Scientific Research Center is managed by an independent body, the Scientific Council. Maria Leptin has been President, and Supreme Leader of the ERC, since 2021. Eystein Janssen, a professor at the University of Bergen, was elected Vice-President in 2022.
  • The budget amounts to more than 16 billion euros for the period 2021-2027.

Source: UIB/ERC

An ERC grant or stipend is among the most prestigious grants researchers can receive. In one Interview with Khrono At that time, in 2021, she came out bold and announced that “the goal is to lay the foundations” for doubling the budget.

The budget for 2021-2027 is just over €16 billion, which today is equivalent to more than NOK 180 billion.

– When you talked about doubling the budget… well, maybe it was a wild idea. Of course, politicians are the ones who decide the budget. On the other hand, there are many voices now demanding this increase, Leptin tells Khrono.

It refers, among other things, to former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who presented one in April. a report He called for a fifth point to be added to the list of the EU's so-called Four Freedoms, namely the free flow of goods, services, capital and people in the Union: Research and education will be included in Letta as a fifth freedom – with the research budget doubled over procurement.

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– Then it depends on who listens and what other demands come to the European budget. I think many are starting to realize that Europe will not be competitive without research money. That's why I'm optimistic.

Watch footage of the meeting with ERC and Leptin in Bergen on June 26 here (case continues below video):

Understands investing in the military

Leptin took over in the wake of the pandemic and a turbulent period at the ERC. His predecessor, Mauro Ferrari, had not been quiet when he resigned in the spring of 2020, following a unanimous vote of no confidence in him in the ERC’s Scientific Council.

The pandemic is history, but crises do not last long, with war in Europe, geopolitical tugs of war – and old, familiar challenges, such as climate, nature and migration.

Moreover, the political landscape in Europe is changing, with the rise of some far-right parties, which are not necessarily research-friendly. Leptin believes, and hopes, that the entire political spectrum will understand the need to fund “wild” ideas.

– We can't reinvent radio. For example, AI emerged from basic research that no one cared about. It was mysterious, yes, even today AI is difficult to understand. You always need new ideas and new knowledge.

– There is concern within academia that increased investment in defence, military and weapons in Europe may now displace other important research. What do you think of this?

– I understand and respect that Europe cannot lag behind in this area. Wycliffe. But this is largely about applied research. To prioritize basic research in this picture would be crazy. All applied research builds on basic research. We don't know what kind of discoveries we'll need in five, ten, twenty years, whether it's defense or climate or anything else.

Will continue to cooperate

– You are concerned that Europe should not lose out in global competition. How do you see the balance between competition and cooperation in the global and geopolitical situation?

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– Competition is an integral and very important part of research, at least at the highest level. So we are all about competition. At the same time, as researchers, we know that there may be people who want to steal our ideas. And yet, we continue to collaborate. We continue to communicate and speak publicly about our ideas. That way we can get ideas back, even from those who are interested in stealing our ideas.

– Of course, don't hand your results over to your worst competitor, who you know will piss you off, quite frankly. But you can't stop cooperating because you risk losing. It's more or less the same with competition between countries: if we close our doors, we stop learning. We also have to realize that our major competitors are ahead of us. If we stop cooperating with our competitors, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

-And these countries in front of us – Which?

– China and the United States. We don't need to get into politics, these are objective facts, if you look at the citations, the patents, etc.

– Industry leaders understand

As a researcher, Leptin has a formidable CV to prove it. She earned her PhD in molecular biology from the Basel Institute of Immunology in Switzerland, before moving to Cambridge in the UK. She then moved on to a research position at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Meanwhile, she has conducted research at other well-known universities, including France and the USA. She is also a member of the National Academies of Sciences in the USA, Germany and Great Britain.

But returning to research has become unthinkable for the biology professor.

Maria Leptin is visiting Norway for the first time in Bergen this week. “Europe must invest more in research if we are not to lose out in the global competition,” she says.

— So you need a laboratory, you need experience… and that's what you've accumulated over many years, and it's very difficult to re-establish.

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– So, if you get a “wild idea,” it still isn't possible?

-I'm afraid it will be difficult to implement this idea. There will come a time when one may have to think in other directions. However, I would need financing. Maybe you need an ERC grant!

Another “wild idea”, doubling the EU and ERC research budget, may also fail if Khrono manages to interview Leptin in another three years. The EU then completes its 9th Framework Programme and replaces it with a new one with a new budget.

– But I will continue to explain, and I hope that people will see the rational arguments for investing in research. Interestingly, many leading industry leaders see the need to support high-risk research, research that they cannot carry out themselves, but from which they can benefit. So there may be support from unexpected parties, says Leptin.

– Don't give up!

— In a difficult time, with cuts in the university sector, also in Norway: What would you say to an ambitious young researcher who hopes to enter a scientific career in this situation?

– First, I have to say that it is frustrating that universities, also in Norway, have to cut staff and even lay people off. But those who go into research do so because they are curious, and that is the motivation that should be followed. If you want to become a top researcher, it is also very important not to give up.

-And maybe get an ERC grant?

– Yes! And if you don't succeed, yes, you belong to 90 percent of applicants. You may be a great athlete, even if you don't win a gold medal in the Olympics. I just heard about someone who managed to get a scholarship on the 7th attempt. So if you don't reach the top, try again. “That's the competition,” says Leptin.

Read also

Never before have so many researchers in Norway received this prestigious grant.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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