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Reflecting on EMBO’s mission and activities



Heidelberg, 9 December 2016 – EMBC President Gerrit van Meer talks about the past, present and future of EMBO’s mission and activities.


Prof. van Meer, as the President of the EMBC, you recently conducted a survey among the representatives of the 29 countries that compose the EMBC. What did you intend to find out?

It was the effectiveness of EMBC I was interested in. The purpose of EMBC is to mediate funding from national governments to EMBO. In most countries, this runs via scientific delegates and administrative delegates from national ministries or national funding organizations.


What I was focusing on in the survey was to find out how the delegates actually interact with the national institutions, and what they require to do their work. I found different degrees of organizational complexity, varying proximity between the scientific delegates to the research community and to decision makers, as well as varieties of procedures in the national systems, with corresponding impact on the ability to act as EMBC delegate. Most remarkably, the survey revealed great enthusiasm amongst delegates for sharing and discussing their approaches and the challenges they cope with on behalf of the community.


Any activity establishing closer contacts between the scientific and the administrative delegates in the ministries or funding organizations will help to further advance EMBO's mission. Defined structures that allow ministries, based on close involvement of the scientific community, to evaluate the EMBO needs and future EMBC funding proposals, and to even compare them with other funding proposals seem elegant and efficient to me.


Active and moral support of the EMBO Membership in their contacts with EMBC delegates will also help! The delegates are the ones to shape the way they work in the countries, however.


Transnational funding is the original aim for which EMBC was created in 1969, which was five years after EMBO was founded. I think what is absolutely pre-eminent is that society and political decision makers are convinced of the purpose and of the value of EMBO. Obviously, EMBO would not be able to fulfil its duties if there were no money. I feel that after 50 years of existence of EMBO there could be a re-evaluation of how much money EMBO needs to fulfil its mission. Let me give you the example of the fellowships for postdoctoral researchers, EMBO’s largest programme. Turning EMBO Fellowships into full-blown salaries including social benefits, as required in an increasing number of EMBC Members States, will increase the cost. I recognize it is extremely hard to make such decisions at a political level, but governments should live up to their obligations and realize that as a result of new demands, budgets need to be adjusted to provide the same support for scientists.


It is the purpose of EMBO to stimulate international collaboration and take responsibility for common measures to improve the possibilities for excellent scientists all across Europe. The track record of achievements in this respect is indisputable. The international ambition of this all says that we have to unite and collaborate in a science framework that is independent from the political framework. Despite the worrying political developments in the UK, there is a great interest all across the science community to remain part of the same science community. EMBO and EMBC are intergovernmental organizations that are not formally linked to the EU. The membership of the UK in the EMBC is independent of its membership in the EU.


The goal of this EMBC engagement and the EMBO Global Activities is to identify and create benefits for both sides – the European and the non-European side. What is true for the European member states is true for the non-European ones: pursuing excellence in the life sciences through fostering talent in challenging career phases, and stimulating scientific exchange across borders to drive scientific advancement is equally important for European and non-European countries.


The implications from global expansion activities will need to be mutually beneficial. Associate Member States and co-operation partners are willing to invest into the community for the benefit of getting access to the EMBO Programmes and activities. Whenever we succeed to connect to excellent community members beyond Europe and vice-versa, I clearly support further expansion of the EMBO activities.


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Tilmann KiesslingTilmann Kiessling
Head, Communications
T. + 49 160 9019 3839