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Jerzy Buzek

Jerzy Buzek

European Parliament

Former Polish PM to lead European Parliament's research committee

BRUSSELS—Following the E.U. elections in May, the European Parliament's research committee has gotten itself a high-profile chair—at least in Brussels circles. Jerzy Buzek, a conservative politician from Poland and a former chemical engineering professor, presided over the European Parliament from July 2009 to January 2012 and was prime minister in his country from 1997 to 2001.

As chair of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Buzek will have a strong voice in the union's science and innovation policies. In the lengthy negotiations over Horizon 2020, the bloc's 7-year science funding program that has just started, ITRE has consistently pushed for a bigger science budget while cost-conscious member states tried to keep it down.

Now that Horizon 2020 is under way, energy policy—one of Buzek's pet subjects—will be higher on ITRE's agenda, says Jerzy Langer, a Polish physicist who served as deputy science minister in 2005. Langer praises Buzek as an enthusiastic “gentleman professor” and a good listener with a knack for consensus. He is “the right person in [the] right moment at the right place,” Langer says.

Buzek was a member of ITRE from 2004 to 2009; in 2006, he was the author of the Parliament's opinion on Framework Programme 7, the giant research funding package that started in 2007 and closed last year. In that capacity, he was the Parliament's lead negotiator during the launch of the prestigious European Research Council, as well as a series of partnerships between public and private research bodies, called Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs). “The main idea was to [channel] the money dedicated for research through industry. It was not very easy to explain such a point of view to my [academic] research community. … They hated me,” Buzek said, with tongue in cheek, in his first public speech as ITRE chair at an event yesterday to launch the second wave of JTIs. In Poland, Buzek was the architect of major reforms of the health care, pensions, and education systems, as well as an effort to decentralize government.

Buzek was elected by acclamation on Monday—meaning that he was the only candidate for the post, following intense horse-trading between political groups and national delegations within the Parliament. The committee also decided that after 2 and a half years, former E.U. budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski will take over from Buzek, who's 74. Lewandowski is another high-profile, conservative member from Poland with substantial insider's knowledge of the E.U. machinery.

Buzek's candidacy speaks to ITRE's political importance in the European Parliament, Langer says. With 67 members, it is the third biggest committee in the chamber, after those responsible for foreign affairs and public health and environment issues. At this stage in his career, Buzek “would not pick up a secondary [role],” Langer says.

For policy wonks, the list of ITRE members includes other familiar names, such as former industry commissioner Antonio Tajani from Italy; and ITRE alumna Marisa Matias, a left-wing member from Portugal; and German Christian-democrat Christian Ehler, who played an active role during Horizon 2020 negotiations.