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Future of EU science group uncertain

The European Science Foundation – an organisation supporting scientific networking and collaboration across Europe – failed to agree on its future as an independent science funding body at a key meeting yesterday.

The ESF has for the past two years been discussing merging with EUROHORCS – another European association bringing together the heads of research funding and performing organisations. Under the most radical version of the proposed move, the ESF and EUROHORCS would merge to create a new lobby group for EU science based in Brussels. In doing so, 56.6 million euro per year in grants allocated by the ESF will be cut.

But ESF members failed to reach the two thirds majority in favour of the move needed for it to get the go ahead. Nor did they reach a simple majority on a watered down version of the proposal in which EUROHORCS would close and the ESF would be “transformed” into a new organisation with its headquarters in Strasbourg (the ESF’s current home) and have an office in Brussels.

“It was a very close call, but a few votes are still missing,” Marja Makarow, the chief executive of the ESF told Nature. “There was no decision. This is not what we hoped for."

EUROHORCS, however, voted in favour of creating a new Brussels-based organisation to be called “ScienceEurope” at a meeting on 14 April, says Dieter Imboden, the current president of EUROHORCs

“The message is clear, EUROHORCs will disappear,” he told Nature.

The ESF will meet again 22 June to discuss how it will move forward.

“There are no clear answers yet to what is the next step,” says Makarow.

But the aim “is to have a joint agenda with EUROHORCS in the new organisation”, she adds.

EU research buffs have long been discussing how best to influence the European science agenda (see Nature’s special report on “Who Speaks for Science in Europe”).

The European Research Council – the EU’s basic science funding agency established in 2007 – took over the role of funding young scientists, a job EUROHORCS had previously been doing. With its research funding role obsolete, many suspected that EUROHORCs would reform to focus more on helping to shape research policy.

The ESF and EUROHORCS have many of the same members and have been aligning their work and policies, for example, developing a joint long term vision for Europe science in 2008. For many it made sense that the two organisations should merge.

Others are concerned that funding to support researchers to network and collaborate is being cut. Jean-Pierre Henriet, a geologist and emeritus professor at the University of Gent, in Belgium says the ESF funding is crucial for the training of future researchers. “If the ESF grant system falls, it will have to be replaced elsewhere,” says Henriet, who is part of group of researchers called Eulenspiegel Action opposing the merger.

Makarow disagrees that researchers will loose out as there are other sources of funding for networking and collaboration in Europe. Rather, she says, there is a real need for an influential research advocacy group based at the heart of policy-making in Brussels.


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    Jean-Pierre Henriet said:

    Just a small correction: the scientists who gathered in the Eulenspiegel Action ( do not oppose the merger, they express a concern – shared by a large scientific community – about the potential loss of an active role of the resulting organization in the effective support of European collaborative research, in times of large uncertainties. ESF’s commitment (May 6th) to continue uninterrupted the work in pursuit of “The EUROHORCs and ESF Vision on a Globally Competitive ERA and their Road map for actions”, which inter alia comprises the continuation and further development of the ESF European Collaborative Research (EUROCORES) scheme, meets this concern.

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