Research Advocate Takes Helm of European Parliament

The European Parliament has elected a strong supporter of research as its new president. Jerzy Buzek, former prime minister of Poland and a chemical engineer by training, made headlines yesterday as the first citizen of a former East-bloc nation to hold the office, one of the three top posts in the European Union. But science policy wonks also know him as an early supporter of the European Research Council (ERC), an E.U.-wide grantmaking body that grew out of grassroots calls for better research funding in Europe.

“Jerzy Buzek's election is a blessing for the future of the ERC,” says ERC Vice-President Helga Nowotny of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund. She says Buzek could provide valuable help as ERC leaders ask the European Union for more autonomy—a step Nowotny calls “absolutely necessary.” That transition will be “an arduous political process,” Nowotny says, and will require new legislation—subject to approval by the Parliament. “We must therefore get it done [while] Buzek is in office,” she says. That doesn’t leave much time. In a compromise typical of the E.U., Buzek, a member of a center-right party, will serve 2 ½ years of the standard 5-year term before handing power over to Germany's Martin Schulz, a leader of the Parliament's Social Democrat faction.