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To: Jose Manuel D. Barroso, President of the European Commission,
Commissioners and services of the European Commission,
Members of the European Parliament,
Representatives of Member States
Re: Groups call for public research to benefit society, not big business

29 June 2011

Public Research should benefit Society, not Big Business

An Open Letter on the Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation Funding

The research that is prioritized and funded today will have a decisive impact on the future of our societies and our planet. It is imperative that the EU research framework is geared towards the needs of society and the environment rather than those of big business. Our societies face immense ecological, social and economic challenges. It is certainly no time for "business as usual", and radical change is needed for society to address these challenges. Research and technology have a crucial role to play, but must - especially when publicly funded - benefit all sections of society.

In these rapidly changing times, research and innovation play a double role: they enable the broadening of knowledge and informed decision-making, but they also contribute to the emergence of problems. Research into nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals, agricultural genetic engineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies, space and military research – for example – has seen big business secure generous public subsidies despite widespread concern about their environmental and social impacts. This has marginalized and limited the funding available for research in important domains such as environmental protection, preventative health policy, organic and low-input agriculture, energy-saving and renewable energies, toxicology, water supply issues, and environmentally sustainable fisheries as well as for research in social sciences which contributes to social change and problem solving that are not focused on technological fixes.

Research agendas that prioritize profit and market share are incapable of meeting the social and environmental challenges Europe is facing precisely because these challenges require alternatives to the high-growth, high-profit models of economic development that have been pursued to such devastating excess. European research should promote and focus on innovation that provides solutions rather than investing in end of pipe technologies, which do not tackle the root causes of the problems that society faces.

We are extremely concerned therefore that the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative address Research and Innovation almost exclusively from the perspective of competitiveness. It envisages a society driven by technological ‘fixes’ instead of social-policy based solutions and threatens to impose an unacceptable corporate bias in the upcoming next EU framework research programme (2014-2020).

Many of the undersigned organizations, who work on a broad range of social, environmental and economic justice issues, have expressed their concern about the corporate bias in the EU’s current ‘FP7’ research programme. We have highlighted problems such as industrydomination of European Technology Platforms (ETPs) and ‘informal’ agenda-setting bodies like the European Security Research and Innovation Forum. These channels create a structural conflict of interest by allowing industry lobbying to set the EU research agenda and then secure the public funds on offer. The more systematic use of public-private research partnerships envisaged by the European Commission will exacerbate these problems and undermine socially-driven innovation.

While the EU has funded research that seeks to explore and promote alternatives at the margins of its current programme (particularly in its Science and Society programme), we are concerned that these already limited opportunities will be further restricted in the coming programme. Ethical concerns about many of the controversial technologies the EU is already funding have also been sidelined. The EU’s ethical guidance and compliance mechanisms must be urgently overhauled to ensure that much needed debates about the impact of new technologies can be considered and addressed as part of the overall research agenda. The role of social sciences, particularly, should not be narrowed to facilitating the “acceptability” of technologies.

Research that will make Europe (and the world) an environmentally sustainable, healthy and peaceful place to live must now be prioritised over and above research that delivers marketable technologies. We, the undersigned civil society and scientific organisations, think that another research and innovation policy is not only possible but urgently necessary in order to respond to the challenges our societies are facing. We call on the EU Institutions to take steps to:

  • Overcome the myth that only highly complex and cost intensive technologies can create sustainability, employment and well-being, and focus on tangible solutions to environmental, economic and societal challenges instead.
  • Ensure that the concept of innovation includes locally adapted and social forms of innovation as well as technological development, and facilitate cooperation and knowledge exchange between civil society organisations and academia in order to realise the innovative potential of the non-profit sector;
  • Establish a democratic, participatory and accountable decisionmaking process for research funding allocation, free from conflicts of interest and industry dominance, and enable civil society to play a full part in both setting the EU research agenda and participating in all EU research programmes;
  • Ensure that all experts advising EU research policy-makers are appointed in a transparent manner to provide impartial and independent expertise, free from conflicts of interests; replace industry-dominated advisory groups and technology platforms with bodies that provide a balanced representation of views and stakeholders;
  • Ensure that publicly funded research benefits wider society by systematically requiring equitable access licensing and encouraging open source access policies in the next Common Strategic Framework.

Signatories (in alphabetical order):
- Action for Solidarity Environment Equality and Diversity (Netherlands)

- ANEC the European consumer voice in standardisation (Belgium)

- Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bäuerliche Landwirtschaft / Family Farmer Association (Germany)

- Arial (Germany)

- Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza (Portugal)

- Association of Doctors for the Environment (Macedonia)

- Associazione Culturale Pediatri (Italy)

- Baby Milk Action (United Kingdom)

- Belgische Shiatsu Federatie (Belgium)

- Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming Division (Norway)

- Biofuelwatch United Kingdom/US (United Kingdom)

- Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft e.V. (Germany)

- Bundeskoordination Internationalismus Pharma-Kampagne (Germany)

- Campagne tegen Wapenhandel / Dutch Campaign Against Arms Trade (Netherlands)

- Centre de Recherche et d’Informations pour le Développement (France)

- Chemicals Health and Environment Monitoring Trust (United Kingdom)

- Consumer Association for the Quality of Life (Greece)

- Corporate Europe Observatory (Belgium)

- Ecobaby Foundation (Netherlands)

- Estonian Organic Farming Foundation (Estonia)

- Estonian University of Life Sciences (Estonia)

- European Academy for Environmental Medicine e.V. (Germany)

- European Association of Consumer Cooperatives (Belgium)

- European Central Council of Homeopaths (United Kingdom)

- European Child Safety Alliance (United Kingdom)

- European Committee for Homeopathy (Belgium)

- European Environmental Citizens’ Organisation for Standardisation (Belgium)

- European Federation of Homeopathic Patients’ Associations (Belgium)

- European Federation of Patients’ Associations for Anthroposophic Medicine (France)

- European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

- European Shiatsu Federation (Belgium)

- Farmaceuticos Mundi (Spain)

- Fédération européenne du cheval de trait pour la promotion de son utilisation (Belgium)

- Fédération Inter-Environnement Wallonie (Belgium)

- Flanders Physicians for the environment (EPHE affiliate) (Belgium)

- Fondation Sciences Citoyennes (France)

- Food and Water Europe (Belgium)

- Food Ethics Council (United Kingdom)

- Formindep (France)

- Foundation on Future Farming (Germany)

- Friends of The Earth Europe (Belgium)

- GEKKO Foundation (Germany)

- Gen-ethisches Netzwerk (Germany)

- GeneWatch UK (United Kingdom)

- Gesellschaft für Ökologische Forschung (Germany)

- Gezinsbond VZW (Belgium)

- Global 2000/Friends of the Earth Austria (Austria)

- GMWatch (United Kingdom)

- Greenpeace Europe

- Health Action International Europe

- Health Care Without Harm Europe (Belgium)

- Health projects for Latvia (Latvia)

- Hungarian Haemophilia Society (Hungaria)

- Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology (Germany)

- Institute for Sustainable Development / Institut za trajnostni razvoj (Slovenia)

- Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust (United Kingdom)

- Interessengemeinschaft für gentechnikfreie Saatgutarbeit (Germany)

- International Chemical Secretariat (Sweden)

- International Federation of Anthroposophic Medical Associations (Belgium)

- International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (Belgium)

- International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility

- International Society of Doctors for the Environment (Ireland)

- Italian Association for Organic Agriculture (Italy)

- Italian Foundation for Research in Organic and Biodynamic Agriculture (Italy)

- Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry, Dept of Internal Medicine n°2 (Russia)

- Mutual Aid Association (Latvia)

- My Right to Know Foundation (Bulgaria)

- National Women’s Health Alliance (USA)

- Naturefriends International (Belgium)

- Naturschutzbund (Germany)

- No Patents on Life / Kein Patent auf Leben (Germany)

- Pesticide Action Network Europe (Belgium)

- Pestizid Aktions-Netzwerk e.V. (Germany)

- PharmAware-UK (United Kingdom)

- Physicians for Social Responsibility Finland (Finland)

- Quaker Council for European Affairs (Belgium)

- Redaktion UmweltRundschau (Germany)

- Réseau Environnement Santé (France)

- Ritimo (France)

- Save our seeds (Germany)

- Scientists for Global Responsibility (United Kingdom)

- Sociedad Española de Agricultura Ecológica (Spain)

- Spanish National Shiatsu Association (APSE, Spain)

- Statewatch (United Kingdom)

- Testbiotech (Germany)

- The Berne Declaration (Switzerland)

- The Corner House (United Kingdom)

- The European Consumers’ Organisation (Belgium)

- The Health and Environment Alliance (Belgium)

- The Independent Salzburg Platform Against Nuclear Dangers (Austria)

- The Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association (Ireland)

- Transnational Institute (Netherlands)

- Verein Demokratischer Pharmazeutinnen und Pharmazeuten (Germany)

- Verein zur Hilfe Umweltbedingt Erkrankter (Germany)

- War on Want (United Kingdom)

- Wemos Foundation (Netherlands)

- Women in Europe for a Common Future (Germany)

- Women’s Environmental Network Scotland (United Kingdom)


View related press release here

Last updated on 24 October 2011

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