When you think about the EU, you should think of science. Collectively we are a research and innovation colossus.
According to UNESCO, the EU produced 34% more scientific output in 2014 than the US – a gap that had grown by 4% since 2008. In fact, Europe produces well over a third of the world’s total scientific output. The EU budget has a huge and growing slice for science and innovation, dedicated to busily connecting up Europe’s research capacity to make it the leading global hub for science. This has benefitted researchers on this continent immensely. We are now in a situation where our scientists can pick and mix across the whole smorgasbord of Europe and even include labs from further afield globally. They build choice international teams to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
And the process is straightforward. The self-assembled teams can simply apply to the one-stop-shop of the EU science programme. This is because all our governments have already paid into the pot in order to support whatever international constellations of talent have the most promising research. That’s a massive bureaucracy saving on doing multinational research and it leads to tremendous scientific benefits too.
It has been repeatedly shown that international collaborations have more impact than domestic-only research. That’s why our funds competitively won from the EU are irreplaceable by national funds. They concern shared infrastructure, talent exchanges and complex high-value international collaborations that not only enrich our research options but are also seen to provide more valued output. According to the 2014 UNESCO data, 62% of UK scientific outputs are now international, compared to 39.6% for the US. A 2013 government report suggested that this key dynamic of surging UK internationalisation is behind the UK overtaking the US for science productivity in recent years.
The EU’s record in science is widely acknowledged to be one of resounding success. Even the complex and thorny legislation around research and innovation has had many breakthroughs in the European Parliament. Dozens of submissions to the ongoing House of Lords inquiry into EU membership and UK science stand as authoritative testimony to the positive impact of the EU on our research and innovation capacity. Witnesses called to the inquiry describe how the EU has overtaken the US as the home of “big science”.
The UK would relinquish its driving seat on this engine should we choose to pull our government and MEPs from the formation of the EU’s science legislation, agenda, budgeting and design of the programmes. Our participation on the programmes is at risk too. We will have no automatic entitlement to continue on them. Rather, our role will be retained or re-shaped according to the interests of the remaining 27 EU countries. We are far better off staying in, where we can continue to deliver maximum benefit to the world as a full and active member.
The red tops scream that the EU is a failure and that we are “shackled to the corpse of Europe”. Whether completely ignorant or deliberately misleading, this demeaning talk about our neighbourhood keeps much of the UK population in the dark about some astonishing European successes. The paragon of these is science, where the EU has driven our continent to be the most exciting hub of research in the world.
Dr Mike Galsworthy is Programme Director of Scientists for EU (@Scientists4EU)
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