25 years EuroScience: Interview of the Former Secretary General Raymond Seltz

For the 25 years of EuroScience, we will publish each month a short interview with some persons who witnessed and participated in the evolution of the association. This month, Raymond Seltz, former Secretary-General and current Deputy Secretary-General will give some insights into EuroScience from his point of view. 

Raymond, you have been the second Secretary-General of EuroScience, and you are still Deputy Secretary General. What means EuroScience to you?

In 2000, I retired from CNRS after eight years as the director of the CNRS office in Bonn, Germany. Besides liaising with  German Science Organisations, the mission of this Office also included Austria and the eastern countries from the former Warsaw Pact. EuroScience was the right place to continue to strengthen the European Scientific Collaboration by giving a voice to its actors.

In your opinion, what was the most important reason for the foundation of EuroScience?

Within the political situation of the late ’90s, I see two reasons. One is concerning Western Europe. The founders of EuroScience were aware of the fact that the rapid development of the European research infrastructures and the universities needed to be accompanied by an organization that gives the possibility to its actors, the individual researchers,  to participate in the process. Secondly the eastern countries of the former the Warsaw Pact  had a large demand for participation in the building of European Science. The founders of EuroScience paid attention to this in inviting several colleagues from this countries to the founding assembly in Strasbourg in 1997, despite the political situation.

In this context, it was the commitment of EuroScience to improve the future of young scientists in Europe. Before the creation of EuroScience, contact had been made  with the European Commission for the organization of a conference with the participation of young scientists from all European countries. It took place in 2002 in Bischenberg, a conference centre in the Strasbourg area, with the support of the European Commission and of ESF (European Science Foundation).

What were the most important events in the evolution of EuroScience that you experienced?

One important event in the evolution of EuroScience was the choice of Strasbourg for its secretariat. Why Strasbourg and not Brussels? It happened that the European Science Foundation (ESF), as well as the Council of Europe, were hosted by the City of Strasbourg. Both parties were and still are facilitators in strengthening the European Union of Scientists.

But a more important event was the first ESOF in 2004 in Stockholm. Thanks to Carl Johan Sundberg, the support of the Swedish community and the  joint forces of the founding members of EuroScience, it was a great success.

As Secretary-General, was there a moment, situation, event of which you were very proud of EuroScience?

All the ESOFs from 2004 to now have been events of which a secretary general can be proud.

The release in 2005 by the Commission of “The European Charter for Researchers” with “The Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers” was also a great day for EuroScience. This is something that is a bit forgotten now but it is still active and the universities and  research institutions are still supposed to follow up on the recommendations of this code of conduct. It deals  among others with how to get the families involved if a researcher is changing the laboratory for example: what about his/her family? Is there any help for the wife or husband to get another job, to find a school for the children etc? Between the middle of 2000 and 2010, there were still a lot of grants which were given to students. Official grants were divided into 2 or 3 to hire 3 people instead of one and give each a third of the grant. Those things are not allowed but they were real. These elements have been considered in the writing of the “Code of Conduct”. The committee to work on the “Charter for Researchers” and “The Code of Conduct” has been set up by the European Commission and the leader of this committee was the president of EuroScience at that time, Jean-Patrick Connerade. Nowadays, things seemed to have evolved but there is still a lot to be done for its full application.

Also, in 2007 we already celebrated the 10th anniversary of EuroScience. It was the opportunity to set the next objectives in 10 years in a booklet with contributions of EuroScience members.  We already reached a quarter of this objective.

A lot has changed since the time you had been secretary-general. In your opinion, how has EuroScience developed and adapted itself?

EuroScience has been involved early in science communication in the sense, that we believe Science is Culture. We always had the wish to make Science accessible to anyone in society. The development of different media formats in the past 25 years was a great help.  The creation of the EuroScientist was a big change and a necessity in the context of a growing influence of social networks and allowing everyone to hand in scientific articles and discuss them.

At ESOF 2006 we had the first “Science meets Poetry” contribution of Jean-Patrick Connerade, a former EuroScience president. This went on at all further ESOFs until 2018.

But also other events were organized such as a seminar in Strasbourg supported by the European Commission on “Science across Television”, participation in “Women in TV science productions”, a project of the European Commission, and the organization of several “European Science TV & New Media Festivals” in Strasbourg, Paris and Lisbon.

In the last ten years, EuroScience was also increasingly Participating in European projects such as RRI TOOLS and NewHoRRIzon. This highlights that EuroScience is also an actor on a European scale. This has limits without increasing the staff members of the office or the help of dedicated voluntary members.

Can you think of times where  EuroScience faced some issues?

Over the years, the scientific program of ESOF noticed an increase in science policy contributions and a growing interest of participants of the European Commission. This evolution together with the dissemination of hot scientific discoveries in public media made original concept of ESOF of showing the impact of science and technology to society less relevant.  

But EuroScience can be very flexible and reacts to changes. For example, with the pandemic in 2020, under difficult pandemic restrictions, the success of the latest ESOF in Trieste has shown a rebirth of the model of ESOF to be consolidated in 2022.

Would you like to say something about EuroScience?

To young career researchers, I would say “Think Europe”. Your career has its start in your national academic community. This community may be federated in a European Association which facilitates the international relation in your discipline. But scientific research requests more and more cross-disciplinarity. In this regard, EuroScience offers you complimentary help with the Marie Curie Association and Eurodoc through ESOF which gives you the opportunity of networking. And the EuroScientist also offers you space for communicating on the ups and downs of your young career.

With the Corona pandemic, scientists in academic and private research organisations are confronted with old problems in a new shape. Among them are ethics in research and communication, the relationship between academic and private research or the limits of the precaution principle. EuroScience has been dealing with these questions in workshops and conferences and we are happy to receive your contribution to the association and the EuroScientist.

Biography:

Raymond Seltz was born in Alsace in 1934 in a winegrower family. He got his PhD in nuclear physics at Strasbourg University and started his career at CRN (Nuclear Research Centre) Strasbourg where he completed most of his research with a break of two years at the University of Minnesota. Back at CRN Strasbourg he held a position of directeur de recherche CNRS and finally as director of the CRN until 1992. In 1992 he moved to Bonn, Germany, as director of the CNRS bureau and scientific attaché at the French Embassy. This was also the year when he was elected secretary general of EuroScience at its General Assembly in Freiburg. Back to Strasbourg at his retirement in 2000, he set up the EuroScience secretariat.

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