New Head for European Research

Brussels-bound. Slovenian Janez Potocnik has been appointed the new E.U. commissioner for science and research.

BERLIN--European science may get a leader with honed bargaining skills. Janez Potocnik--the lead negotiator for Slovenia's entry into the European Union--has been tapped to be Europe's next commissioner for science and research. Assuming the new commission is approved by the E.U. Parliament, Potocnik will take the reins of E.U. science policy on 1 November. The appointment surprised many E.U. watchers because the 46-year-old Potocnik has no background in the natural sciences, but his negotiation skills are expected to serve him well in his new post.

Each of the 25 E.U. member countries appoints a commissioner to serve in the E.U.'s executive branch for 5-year terms, and E.U. commissioners are chosen more for their political experience than their field of expertise. Outgoing commissioner Philippe Busquin, for example, studied physics but then became a heavyweight in Belgian politics.

Potocnik is saying little to the press before the European Parliament's confirmation hearings, expected next month. Many E.U. scientists hope that he will back the formation of a European Research Council (ERC), a program to fund basic research proposals from individual scientists, which would represent a shift from the past emphasis on funding large multinational collaborations. A commission proposal in June (Science, 25 June, p. 1885) called for doubling the E.U. research budget to an annual average of $12 billion from 2007 to 2013 and using part of the increase to start an ERC.

Educated at the University of Ljubljana, Potocnik has been Slovenia's minister for European affairs since 2002. From 1993 to 2001, he was director of the Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development in Ljubljana. In 1998, he was appointed head of the team negotiating Slovenia's treaty to join the E.U.

Potocnik's political savvy and negotiating experience should be an advantage for European science, says Robert Blinc, a physicist at the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana: "He will certainly do more than ... a Nobel Prize winner in this position. He can sell science." Adds economist Vladimir Gligorov of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies: "He knows the E.U. inside and out."

Related site
Profiles of all the new commissioners