Joining the dots: unprecedented level of pan-European research activism

Research activism in Europe is about to transcend borders. Forthcoming protests movements planned for around mid-October in France, Italy and Spain are not a coincidence. Scientists will rally their respective capitals—be it on their bike or on foot—as a result of unprecedented concerted planning. Up until recently, the scientists involved did not collaborate across borders to campaign for a change in their own working environment. Yet, they are no strangers to international collaboration, when it comes to their research projects. So what triggered this shift in attitude?

Several factors come into play. First, national research activism movements are increasingly relying on online communication tools to make their messages widely available. Thus, the multiplying effect of social media combined with the existence of expatriate communities of scientists within Europe—due to the brain drain from Southern and Eastern Europe—plays a part. As a result, activists have gained an international leverage never attained before. But, clearly these are not the only drivers.

The second aspect is that austerity policies have pushed those bearing their consequences—particularly scientists from Southern Europe—to react. As a result, researchers are taking their responsibilities, as citizens, to try and change their working conditions themselves.

Interestingly, the upcoming wave of grassroots protests by citizen scientists is reminiscent of the European Parliament election campaign, earlier this year. It gave rise to the emergence of citizen democracy movements, such as Podemos, among others, in Spain, which partly built its campaign on the need to support research and innovation.

It is ironical that it took so long for European scientists to overcome their own geographical short-sightedness. Only now do they realise that many of their concerns—albeit not all, as some issues remain country specific —are shared with their neighbours.

The irony of the situation does not stop here. Research activists themselves are now accusing both the European Commission and national governments of short-sightedness in their research and innovation policies.

This means that these activists no longer see national governments as the only target for their demands. This demonstrates a better understanding of the complexity that governs research and innovation in Europe. This also shows that they are hopeful of the potential role Brussels could play in whipping national governments into shape, and making them abide by their pledge to increase support for R&D at national level. Hence, the idea of a coordinated protest at pan-European level to gain support for the establishment of a more sustainable research ecosystem .

Pan-European dialogue is now in order to counter all types of short-sightedness. Responding to such need, a timely new forum, called the Homo scientificus europaeus blog will be launched next week. It has been initiated by researchers’ communities from across Europe—North and South—and is hosted by the EuroScientist. Its objective is to facilitate debates and discussions going beyond the traditional rhetoric and to help bring novel solutions for research and innovation in Europe to the attention of policy makers. It could become the link that helps join the dots of the multivariable European research puzzle.

Featured image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Matteo Recagni

Go back to the Special Issue: Research Activism

Sabine Louët

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