9 April 2020 – The ERC is playing a decisive role in accelerating research on SARS-CoV-2. The flexibility of the funds allocated by the ERC and the outstanding scientific qualities of its grantees are fundamental to research that addresses urgent societal issues, including the ongoing pandemic.
Mauro Ferrari resigned as President of the ERC on 7 April. His reasons were laid out in a statement in the Financial Times, stating a lack of support for a specific Covid-19 programme from the ERC and a lack of coordination in the European Commission. A statement the next day (8 April) from the ERC Scientific Council describing the circumstances surrounding this event makes clear this resignation followed a unanimous vote 10 days earlier by the active members of the ERC Scientific Council requesting Ferrari resign that position. The ERC Council cited multiple factors other than Covid-19 for holding that vote.
Professor Ferrari’s statement has the potential to undermine the work of the ERC and its Scientific Council, the European Commission, and European cooperation in general. During the current fast-moving crisis, in particular when coordination is difficult, there is a need to emphasise our shared values and goals.
Since its creation, the ERC has been recognised as a model for funding excellent research not only in Europe but worldwide. By giving its grantees the freedom and resources to pursue their own research projects, the ERC continues to fulfil its original mission. Significant European funding has been made available for work specifically on SARS-CoV-2, including through the European Commission within Horizon Europe and other sources.
A strong effort of the scientific community has emerged spontaneously, without any outside directive. Individual scientists have already decisively embraced the challenge of research into the biology, therapy opportunities and vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. For example, we know of well over a hundred EMBO members and Young Investigators who are actively focussing their laboratories’ research on understanding the disease, or developing improved methods for detecting the virus or developing drugs or vaccines, providing advice or equipment or helping otherwise. Many are using the freedom that funding through ERC grants gives them to pursue this research. Additional funds, which are currently being allocated at the European and national levels, will allow more researchers to engage in that research, to build on the knowledge of viruses that has been accumulated through the type of science done by ERC grantees and other researchers.
The value of the bottom-up approach of ERC is not limited to times of peace and prosperity. Rather the opposite: the value of that approach is confirmed during crises such as the ongoing pandemic by giving to the best minds the means to tackle such challenges efficiently. The ability of researchers to pursue issues of importance, as identified by themselves and their communities, has contributed to a knowledge base that allows those developing vaccines, drugs, and social interventions to respond directly to the urgent societal needs.
EMBO is an organization of more than 1800 leading researchers that promotes excellence in the life sciences in Europe and beyond. The major goals of the organization are to support talented researchers at all stages of their careers, stimulate the exchange of scientific information, and help build a research environment where scientists can achieve their best work.
EMBO is one of the organizations that was responsible for the founding of the ERC. Since that time EMBO has remained close to the ERC through our Members and Young Investigators, many of whom have received ERC grants and have served as reviewers and on committees, as well as through collaborations with ERC working groups, and policy work.
 Please see a list of relevant projects on the ERC website: https://erc.europa.eu/list-erc-funded-research-projects-related-coronavirus
 Statement by Mauro Ferrari on his resignation: http://prod-upp-image-read.ft.com/65f5a27e-78dd-11ea-af44-daa3def9ae03
 Statement from the ERC Scientific Council on the resignation of Mauro Ferrari: https://erc.europa.eu/news/resignation-mauro-ferrari-%E2%80%93-statement-scientific-council
 Celis and Gago, Shaping Science Policy in Europe: https://febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1016/j.molonc.2014.03.013