BRUSSELS—Carlos Moedas, the commissioner-designate for research, has won over European parliamentarians in a public hearing here today. A former secretary of state in Portugal with no research policy background, Moedas came across as competent and well-prepared—but the plans he presented for his possible 5-year term remain vague, observers say.
Moedas, an engineer with an MBA from Harvard University, has experience in water management, real estate, and investment banking. He is best known in Portugal for overseeing the country's bailout program, negotiated with the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) after the economic crisis.
However, he seems to have immersed himself in his new subject in the 2 weeks since his appointment was announced. Today, before members of Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), Moedas displayed a good understanding of science policy trends and of Horizon 2020, the bloc's 7-year, €80 billion research funding program, which started this year.
In general, he stuck to the European Commission's usual line, focusing on the need to boost innovation and public-private partnerships, and mentioning the importance of results and “output indicators.” “Europe is [good] at turning euros into knowledge, but then it's [not good] at turning that knowledge into money, euros, profit,” the former banker said in French. (During the 3-hour hearing, Moedas segued from Portuguese to English, with dabs of French and Spanish thrown in.)
Yet Moedas also presented himself as a firm believer in the value of fundamental research, including social sciences and the humanities, a defender of the freedom of scientists, and a “strong supporter” of the European Research Council. “I believe in public investment in research and innovation,” he stated, adding that he would be the “torchbearer” for science in the new commission. Moedas also pledged to be “ferocious” when pushing member states to do their part—in particular to complete the European Research Area (a much-delayed project to allow the free circulation of knowledge and scientists within the union).
He pegged himself as an “implementation man” with a focus on “delivery, delivery, and delivery.” That attitude makes good sense at this point in time, says Peter Tindemans, secretary-general of the researchers' organization Euroscience: With Horizon 2020 now settled and under way, “nothing visionary is expected” of Moedas, at least until the program's midterm review in 2017.
But Moedas remained “quite vague on how to deliver,” said Dan Nica, ITRE's coordinator for the center-left group of socialists and democrats, in a statement after the hearing. Left-wing members of the European Parliament also challenged Moedas's ability to act as a research champion, when the bailout program and reforms that he helped roll out at home “asphyxiated” Portuguese science, in the words of Marisa Matias, a left-wing member of Parliament (MEP) and sociologist from Portugal.
In a more personal vein, Moedas appeared polite, mild, and cautious; some observers say his apparent eagerness to please all sides lacks a bit of bite. Born in 1970, he is one of the youngest commissioners-designate; he struck a chord with MEPs by describing himself as a true European, having met his wife in Paris while two of his children were born in London. “Erasmus was one of the defining moments in my life,” he said, referring to the European Union's flagship student exchange program, which allowed him to study in France. Sounding a tad emotional, he added that becoming a commissioner would allow him “to serve and give back to Europe.”
Moedas has already convinced ITRE's coordinators, who gave his candidacy a (still unofficial) green light in a meeting this afternoon. The committee's official evaluation letter will be issued next week, before the whole chamber votes on the entire slate of proposed commissioners on 22 October.