Treasure this crown jewel of Europe

Ben Feringa’s speech at Friends of the ERC press conference at ESOF, September 3, 2020     

It is a pleasure to briefly address you at this special press conference of friends of European Research Council at ESOF.

I would like to start with emphasizing the important role of the programs of the ERC in the European and Global Scientific Landscape.

My name is Ben Feringa, professor of chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The ERC is the central pillar and flagship of the European Science and Innovation Program Horizon 2020 and will continue to be so in the new Horizon Europe program. The key for the success of ERC is that it provides funding on the basis of Scientific Excellence. In a bottom-up approach it stimulates researchers to come with the brightest and most creative ideas. Unrestricted financing over a longer period, freedom to discover, allowing scientist to tackle the most challenging problems; this is what makes ERC so special compared to many other funding sources. Please treasure this crown jewel of Europe!

The ERC program assures that we maintain the highest quality of research, an open competition and independence for our researchers to pushing the frontiers of fundamental science in all disciplines. We advocate to our policy makers and governmental leaders the importance of blue sky research, and freedom for our scientific talents. This will allow to build the basis for our future. I am extremely proud on what has been accomplished through the European Research Council programs in Europe, not only for established researchers like myself but in particular for the younger talents through ERC starting and consolidator grants. Beyond any doubt ERC has set the standards in the European Union regarding quality and novelty in science and inventions and it finds recognition all over the world. It enables to attract the brightest minds from all over the world to our research institutes in Europe. In my opinion this is indeed one of the most successful accomplishments of the European Union and an example for all of us.

Beyond any doubt it is also the strength of the ERC scientific community, enabling frontier research programs across all disciplines, a diverse community of outstanding talents that are stimulated to go for unconventional approaches supported by the ERC granting scheme.

The major concern now is basically the reduction in funding for the ERC in the new EU budget for the coming years. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is for our society and industry, the sustainable society of Europe, to have this strong basis of excellent science.
More than ever we need to invest in our young talents who will be the innovators of the future; many excellent applications currently do not get funding due to restricted budgets. Do not forget these are the science programs that will provide the basic breakthroughs and innovations for the industry of tomorrow. I am convinced that compromising ERC budgets will be disastrous for the future of Europe.  

Let me go back 4 years in time to October  2016 when I received the magic call from Stockholm,  announcing that I was recipient of the Nobel prize in chemistry together with sir Fraser Stoddart and Jean-Pier Sauvage for our work on molecular machines. Molecular Machines, sounds a bit like science fiction, yes very fundamental chemical research focusing on the question how to control motion at the nanoscale. A basis for future robots, smart medicine or self-repairing materials, who knows?  How could I have known that the ERC would be crucial to enable me to make major discoveries, the road was long and winding, initially without clear application, but ERC allowed me to realize my dreams. Setting the stage together with my colleagues for a new field of science. It is crystal clear that without long-term support from ERC through advanced grants, I would not have been able to pursue these very risky projects and make major breakthroughs. It allowed me to make marvelous and unforeseen discoveries and innovations currently translated to industry.

In shaping our Future, we will have to go far beyond our current horizon. We as scientists cannot afford to do more of the same, we will have to leave our comfort zone if we really want to build our inclusive and sustainable society of the future. ERC plays a key role in not only advocating the importance of fundamental science as a basis for real innovation but also makes it possible.

Once again let me emphasize the importance of strengthening ERC budgets. Scientific excellence and freedom to discover, it does make a real difference!! Stimulating the young talents in all disciplines which are eager to shape our future, encourage them to think bold and stimulate their creativity and imagination. ERC has an important mission for the future of Europe, our Future!