We have learned with deep sadness that Jose Mariano Gago has died on April 17, 2015 from cancer at the age of 66 years.
Mariano was a particle physicist with a career in Portugal and at CERN. He became known all over Europe as minister for science and Technology in Portugal from 1995 till 2002 and then again as minister for Higher Education and Science and Technology from 2005 till 2011. He was one of the most experienced and influential ministers in Europe, and as minister, in his ‘interbellum’, and after 2011 very visible in European debates on science, technology and higher education. He was a key driver of transforming and internationalizing the Portuguese higher education and science system. He supported Eurocience and ESOF, and was member of the EuroScience Governing Board from 2012-2014.
Rather than extolling his many qualities and achievements I prefer to honour him by recalling some personal common history; I have known him for 20 years and shared a passion for Europe and the ins and outs and do’s and don’ts of European integration, for science and for policies for science and technology. I met him for the first time soon after he became minister in 1995, possibly at the OECD Ministerial Conference in 1995 on a.o. the continuation of the OECD MegaScience Forum of which I was president. I was responsible for science and research policy in the Netherlands (as civil servant) and thus accompanied our minister for Education, Culture and Science, Jo Ritzen, who had a background in science and economics, to formal (the Research Council), or informal meetings of EU ministers.
Jo Ritzen and Mariano Gago both were the rather active type of minister. They got along very well; their common background in science must have helped. In the Research Council they made sure not to go unnoticed. In the mid-nineties a majority (9 or 10 out of 15) ministers in the Research Council were social-democrats and Jo Ritzen felt this was an opportunity to have an impact from social-democratic perspective on European policies. So these ministers started gathering the evening before meetings of the Research Council; they decided to write a joint Manifesto on social-democratic science and technology policy, in the context of the PES, the Party of European Socialists. Jo Ritzen put his political assistant to work on it, and asked me whether I was willing to provide inputs and help out. It was at the limit, maybe slightly over it, of what I could do as a civil servant, but it might lead to more coordination in preparing EU Council meetings and more concrete cooperation between countries. Thus I joined Jo Ritzen to his meetings with his social-democrat colleagues and other ministers. That is how Mariano and I started to get in touch with one another frequently. The Manifesto was duly published in about 1996. The next step was to try and establish joint initiatives with joint funding. None have materialized – the social-democrat ‘majority’ soon evaporated – but one almost passed the post. Science for social development, you might call it, a topic dear to social-democrats. Among social scientists of all stripes there was much discussion on the need to have better comparative survey data for statistical analysis of a wide range of social and economic phenomena for scientific understanding as well as a basis for policies. The ministers decided to adopt this idea, and Mariano Gago took the lead: he organized a weekend meeting in Lisbon in 1997 where ministers and scientists discussed proposals and ministers considered how to realize this. There were scientific presentations; I wrote a paper for ministers on how to implement it. While not successful, I have always felt we could have pulled it off. Maybe Mariano was for some things a bit too obstinate and enigmatic. Anyway the European Economic and Social survey has eventually taken off.
I had left the ministry in 1998/1999 but kept seeing him for example when he presented in 2003 his report, still being cited, on the 700,000 researchers the EU would need to educate to meet the Lisbon goals, which he had been very instrumental in defining. In 2004 Mariano Gago became president of ISE, the Initiative for Science in Europe, set up by the European Life Sciences Forum (ELSF) and EuroScience. The president and CEO of the European Science Foundation, and the presidents of the European Physical and Mathematical Societies were among the first members, with Luc van Dyck as executive secretary. ISE was created in 2003 to unite the scientific community in the drive to establish the European Research Council. An open letter in Science in mid-2004 gathered the signatures of more than 50 European learned societies, as well as EuroScience and the ESF. Mariano chaired a major ISE conference at UNECO in Paris in October 2004 which included a debate between leaders of the scientific community, including funding agencies, politicians and representatives from industry about the position of the ERC in ERA and the European landscape. Mariano. A first panel included Achilleas Mitsos, the then (Director General Research EC, Reinder van Duinen (at that time president ESF) and I myself for EuroScience, set the scene and Mariano’s political antennae were evident from the start. Luc van Dyck and I had several meetings with Mariano to make sure that the political momentum would not be lost, and to prepare for the next steps of ISE. But in 2005 Mariano had to step down: he had become minister, once again, now for Science and Higher Education, in Portugal.
In his second period as minister he had the opportunity to really have an impact on the transformation and internationalization of the Portuguese science and higher education system. But at the same time he was probably the only minister who not only discussed the proposals from the European Commission but was actively engaged in shaping the European landscape. One concerned the role of the national funding agencies, and key performing organisations such as the Max Planck Gesellschaft. The EUROHORCs, consisting of their presidents, had approached him. Their wish was to sit at the table in Brussels. Mariano came to me at ESOF in Barcelona in July 2008 and told me that he was willing to organize a workshop with some of his political colleagues around Europe, the assembled EUROHORCs presidents and José Silva, Director General Research of the EC. But he wanted me to write and present a background document at that meeting. In a discussion, first with Pår Omling and Dieter Imboden, outgoing and incoming chair of EUROHORCs, and then between the two of us we defined the stakes of that meeting: “you are important organisations, but then you have to demonstrate that you are ready to take responsibility and define a joint agenda”. Mariano promised at the end of the workshop to help them politically; a RoadMap was produced, but in the end they took the side road towards internal battles around the position of the ESF.
In 2012 I asked Mariano to become a member of the EuroScience Governing Board, and in that position he has demonstrated once again his political acuteness. He was very active when Amaya Moro-Martin and Gilles Mirambeau started to gather scientists in Southern Europe too fight the consequences of the austerity policies for scientists in those countries, and, in particular, he helped us when representatives of movements from the Southern countries met among themselves and with EuroScience in Barcelona in November 2013, and he played a key role in a subsequent session at ESOF2014 in Copenhagen.
Mariano and I spoke at length in December 2014 initially about the evaluation of the Funding Agency FCT in Portugal, because I wanted his advice on whether EuroScience should issue a statement. His view was straightforward: the various actors have made such a mess of this evaluation that no minister will dare to implement its results. We went on to discuss a variety of other developments in policies for science, technology and innovation in Europe: nationally and in the EU, and concluded that we should try and find time to meet regularly for half a day to continue that discussion. It was not going to be. Mariano Gago was a man of significance and a friend, and I feel glad and privileged to have known him.
Secretary General EuroScience