Thumbs Up for Europe's Science Chief

The European Union's (EU's) new research commissioner, Belgian socialist Philippe Busquin, will take office later this week after the European Parliament today approved the entire slate of new commissioners put forth by incoming European Commission President Romano Prodi.

Although research commissioner is considered one of the lowest profile posts in the 19-member commission--the EU's equivalent of a cabinet--Busquin's nomination proved to be the most controversial, mainly because of questions about his knowledge of corruption in the Socialist Party he headed in Belgium's French-speaking region. Despite a last-minute allegation that Busquin had misled the Parliament's research committee about his knowledge of the scandals, Prodi assured the Parliament that he had complete confidence in Busquin.

As the head of the EU's research directorate, Busquin, 58, will administer the 4-year, $17 billion Fifth Framework research program. Even though he has focused almost entirely on Belgian politics during the last 2 decades, he began his career in science: He received a physics degree from the Free University of Brussels in 1962 and was an assistant physics lecturer on the university's medical faculty from 1962 to 1977. In 1976, he studied ecology and environmental issues at the Free University, and from 1978 to 1980 he chaired the board of directors of Belgium's Institute of Radioelements.

Along with his new colleagues, Busquin will be taking office 4 months early, because the former commission resigned en masse last spring in response to allegations of cronyism and mismanagement (Science, 19 March, p. 1827). In terms of research policy, Busquin is something of an unknown quantity, but he told members of the Parliament's research committee earlier this month that he wants to make better use of the EU's Joint Research Centre, which includes institutes covering fields from space applications to consumer protection. He will also review the extent of Europe's participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project and support a plan to develop a patent that would be valid across the EU.