How did EuroScience start?

How has the organisation of EuroScience been created?

The idea of creating a European association for the advancement of science (EAAS) developed way before the foundation of EuroScience in 1997, in several places and over some time.

EuroScience started in France, through a convergence of small streams all running to feed a European river. Initiators agreed on two major points:

a) for European countries, future research and technology needed visibility, projects and resources of European dimension,

b) decision-makers in these domains lacked vision and were not as inventive as the European stakes required. By the nineties, there was general enthusiasm for Europe but most scientific circles and national science policy-makers hardly shared it.

The first call for an EAAS was an embassy report of March 1993 by Rémy Lestienne, a neuroscientist then in Washington. The report pleaded for the creation in Europe of an association similar to the powerful American association for the advancement of science (AAAS). Rémy Lestienne had attended the annual AAAS meeting and been struck by its vitality, the variety of subjects treated, and the large audience (some 5000 participants), as well as by the echo this meeting got in the media since many journalists from both the US and Europe were present.

Lestienne’s report caught the attention of François Kourilsky, then Director General of the CNRS, who organised a meeting of the Comité National of the CNRS in 1993, on the subject of “European perspectives of scientific research”. The concept was discussed within the CNRS European Policy Committee chaired by Jean-Pierre Chevillot, but implementation did not follow.

How did I personally come to formulate the concept of EAAS?

At the OECD my job was to foster better collaboration on big science projects among industrialised countries. During meetings, I was disturbed to see high government officials considering the scientists as executants, not listened to or valued as intellectuals, which most of them are. Moreover each European member state delegate spoke for himself, despite the presence of a European Commission representative. I felt that European scientists ought to get organised, make themselves heard, and do so at the European level. As yet nothing like the AAAS existed in Europe, only a few national transdisciplinary associations such as BAAS (British association for the advancement of science) and some European learned societies in various disciplines, while the US had benefited from the AAAS for over 150 years.

We set to work. We were eight, the “EuroScience initiators”, including a post-doc and a Ph.D. student. This Parisian group worked hard through the winter of 1995-96, defining goals for the association-to-be, building consensus among initiators and drafting a manifesto proposing objectives and action lines, to be widely publicised and diffused throughout Europe. A name was found for the association: EuroScience. Meanwhile we told our European friends and scientific collaborators about the nascent project and met with wide sympathy and support. We wanted the association to be one of individuals, from post-doc to Nobel prize winner, not a federation of extant bodies. From the start, we also wanted EuroScience to be pan-European, including Russia (Russian science was in a state of crisis and restructuration at the time).

The next step was to propagate the manifesto. Five of us paid a visit in London to the new editor-in-chief of Nature, Philip Campbell, who was interested. He welcomed our initiative and graciously published the manifesto in his journal Nature on 14 November 1996 which has acirculation of about 40 000 copies. We received a flood of replies, and thus was formed the first line of EuroScience founding members. The founding members met in Strasbourg in March 1997, for the EuroScience constituent assembly. There were altogether 250 founding members, from 25 European countries. Remarkable was the presence of colleagues from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The Eastern gate was thus thrown open and Central and Eastern European friends have been enthusiastic members of EuroScience ever since. During the constituent assembly, goals and available means were presented. Claude Kordon was chosen as the first president and myself as secretary general. The first two vice-presidents were Wilhelm Krull, secretary general of the Volkswagen Foundation, and Jerzy Langer, from Warsaw University. The Cambridge astronomer Simon Mitton was elected treasurer.

But how were we financed?

No national institutions were financing us, at least in the beginning. We had requested and got support from the European Commission for the constituent assembly, but payment of these subsidies was long in coming. There could have been no assembly without the energetic action of a future vice-president, Wilhelm Krull, who obtained in three weeks the support of a German foundation, Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. Later, Wilhelm Krull and a few others struggled to lay the basis of a EuroScience Foundation, fed by private sources, to alleviate the chronic financial weakness of the association.

The first Board meeting was held in Geneva in autumn 1997. The first year of EuroScience was one of consolidation and fund-raising. We started publishing a quarterly bulletin, EuroScience News, edited by John Finney (University College, London). Press and radio journalists were regularly informed. We contacted other European bodies, learned societies, the ESF, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, Academia Europaea, the European universities association (EUA), the European association of research managers (EARMA), etc. and UNESCO, with an eye to future collaboration. Work groups (WG) were set up, all using e-mail. Among the first was the East-West Science Integration WG chaired by Rémy Lestienne and Karl Fuchs (Karlsruhe) to exchange experience and consider common actions for bridging the gap between East and West. Other WG were formed in due course and reported regularly in EuroScience News.

EuroScience, organisation and emanation of the civil society

The role of EuroScience consists, not in providing any direct service to membership, but in gathering and endorsing information and proposals for presentation to relevant authorities at the European level, in the name of the scientific community.

Through the Work groups and through conferences organized with the help of its local sections (ten existed by 2000), EuroScience contributed solicited and unsolicited advice on the European political scene. Its independent input helped irrigate the channel through which decision-makers are informed before deciding.

This witness to the first years of EuroScience has underlined the collective and independent approach to European scientific problems that was and is EuroScience intention.

Certainly EuroScience is open to science and technology professionals already accustomed to co-operation. This community is not large (about two million individuals in Europe) but it contributes decisively to shape our common future. A stronger feeling of European identity among scientists, a sense of European citizenship, is also a small but – I believe – significant brick in the construction of Europe.

Françoise Praderie