European Research Council President Resigns
European Research Council President Resigns

European Research Council President Resigns

Mauro Ferrari says the organization’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is inadequate, but ERC members claim his proposals didn’t align with the mission of the council.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Apr 8, 2020

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The president of the European Research Council, nanoscientist Mauro Ferrari, has resigned from his post after becoming frustrated that his proposals for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic were rejected, according to a statement released today (April 8) by the Financial Times.

“I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19,” Ferrari writes in the statement, “for what pertains to the complete absence of coordination of health care policies among member states, the recurrent opposition to cohesive financial support initiatives, the pervasive one-sided border closures, and the marginal scale of synergistic scientific initiatives.”

Ferrari submitted his resignation, which was effective immediately, on Tuesday (April 7), reports the Associated Press.

“The commission regrets the resignation of Professor Ferrari at this early stage in his mandate . . . and at these times of unprecedented crisis in which the role of EU research is key,” European Commission spokesman Johannes Bahrke tells the AP.

Ferrari claims that he wanted to establish a special program to combat COVID-19, which he understood as “a tragedy of possibly unprecedented proportions,” according to the statement. “I thought that at a time like this,” he writes, “the very best scientists in the world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic, with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new behavioral dynamic approaches based on science, to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders.”

But the ERC governing body unanimously rejected his proposal, Ferrari says in his statement, leaving him “clearly disappointed, and deeply disturbed.” 

Ferrari writes in the statement that he later collaborated with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on another plan for addressing the pandemic, but when that proposal was passed along to the administration, it seems to have “disintegrated upon impact.” 

Christian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament who serves on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, says in a statement that Ferrari’s ideas failed to align with the legal mandate of the ERC. “Mr Ferrari’s recent proposal to deviate from the ERC’s researcher-driven approach was seen more as a window-dressing public relations stand on the coronavirus crisis,” he writes, “and it was a contradiction to the legal basis of the ERC, which can and does in many ways contribute to the fight against COVID-19.”

The ERC Scientific Council issued its own statement today (April 8), in which it claimed that “Professor Ferrari displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison-d’être of the ERC to support excellent frontier science, designed and implemented by the best researchers in Europe.” 

Ferrari also missed many important ERC meetings, attempted to promote his own ideas through personal initiatives with the commission, and was involved in academic and commercial projects that competed with his ERC workload, according to the ERC’s statement.

Ferrari’s resignation followed a written unanimous vote of no confidence on March 27 by active members of the ERC, the ERC states. Regarding the rejected proposal that Ferrari described, the ERC counters in its response that “we did not support a special initiative because that is not our remit and the Commission's Research and Innovation Directorate General, with which we are connected, was already very active in developing new programmes to support this research through the appropriate channels.” There are more than 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects totaling roughly €100 million in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ERC statement. 

In the conclusion of his statement, Ferrari says that “the times require decisive, focused, and committed actions” and that he will “return to the frontier, to the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19, with real resources and responsibilities, away from offices in Brussels, where my political skills are clearly inadequate, and again at the true service of those who need new medical solutions.”

Clarification (April 9): The article’s title was adjusted so as not to suggest the ERC didn’t want him to resign.