European Research Council Elects New President: Helga Nowotny

The new president of European Research Council’s scientific council is a familiar figure: Helga Nowotny, the current council vice-president, has long been a leading player in European science policy circles. The council elected her unanimously today following the resignation last month of the founding president, Fotis Kafatos. Kafatos will remain on the council, but has said he wanted to devote more time to research.

Nowotny, a social scientist and professor emeritus at ETH Zurich who is now based in Vienna, served as chair of the European Commission European Research Advisory Board during ERC’s founding and has long been a vocal supporter of its goals to support cutting-edge basic research across Europe.

ERC has a slate of new leaders. In addition to Nowotny and the new commissioner for research, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the body is also slated to get a new director in the coming months. The application for the new post, which will have day-to-day control over the ERC administration, closes 5 March. That person’s ability to bridge the culture gap between bureaucratic Commission policies and the needs of scientists, Novotny says, will be the key in determining whether ERC should stay part of the European Commission as it is now, or should spin off as an independent agency. “A lot will depend who the person is, whether he or she can become a truly integrative character” who successfully juggles the commission’s rules and the scientific goals of the council, she says.

Kafatos’s term was one of “historic achievements,” Nowotny says. The other council members apparently agree. They voted unanimously to name him Honorary President.