Report: EU citizens keen to boost R&D investment

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Scientists in Europe can count on citizens’ support for sustained investment in research and development amid fears that the ongoing economic crisis may lead to cuts, a new survey revealed last week.

Europeans are generally very positive towards science, whether as a means of improving the environment or as a way of improving their own health and everyday lives, according to a special EU-wide Eurobarometer conducted last summer among 17-60 year olds. 

“These results are particularly encouraging. They prove science matters to people and that the [European] Commission’s objective of building the European Research Area is going in the right direction,” commented Science and Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik. 

However, there was less of a consensus reagrding research into other health-related areas, such as genetic manipulation, genetically-modified foods and the use of science for destructive purposes, like the development of nuclear and chemical weapons. 

Asked about the quality of research in their home countries, citizens often complained that scientific research was weak and insufficient. They cited low research budgets, the absence of a political vision and poor organisation of public research among the main reasons for this, but also complained of general low interest in research careers across Europe. 

Scientists have repeatedly pointed to a lack of attractiveness of science among young people in Europe, which has already had to come to terms with a brain drain towards more science-friendly environments in the US or Australia. 

The impression that research is weak in their home countries is particularly strong in Eastern and Southern member states, while citizens from three large member states, France, Germany and the UK, showed more confidence, according to the survey. 

The notion of a coordinated European research policy thus attracted strong support from EU citizens, who nevertheless admitted that they did not know much about the latest EU initiatives, including the European Research Area (see EURACTIV Links Dossier). 

“European citizens believe in science as a tool of progress and support a more cooperative European approach to science and technology policy. Pooling brains and resources is key to making the EU competitive globally: we are more intelligent together than on our own,” Poto?nik said. 

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