The ERC's Scientific Council notes with regret the statement made by Mauro Ferrari concerning his resignation on 7 April. We here present the facts of the situation.
On Friday 27 March, all 19 active members of the ERC’s Scientific Council individually and unanimously requested that Mauro Ferrari resign from his position as ERC’s President.
This request was made for four reasons:
- During his three-month term in office, 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. Although voicing his support for this in public pronouncements, the proposals he made to the Scientific Council did not reflect this position. He did not understand the context of the ERC within the EU’s Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020.
- Since his appointment, Professor Ferrari displayed a lack of engagement with the ERC, failing to participate in many important meetings, spending extensive time in the USA and failing to defend the ERC’s programme and mission when representing the ERC.
- In contrast, Professor Ferrari made several personal initiatives within the Commission, without consulting or tapping into the collective knowledge of the Scientific Council, and instead using his position to promote his own ideas.
- Lastly, Professor Ferrari was involved in multiple external enterprises, some academic and some commercial, which took a lot of his time and effort and appeared on several occasions to take precedence over his commitment to ERC. The workload associated with these activities proved to be incompatible with the mandate of President of the Scientific Council.
Professor Ferrari subsequently resigned on 7 April 2020. Therefore, his resignation in fact followed a written unanimous vote of no confidence. In contrast, Professor Ferrari has stated that the reason for his resignation is that the Scientific Council did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus. To address this point specifically, 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.
Indeed, many ERC funded researchers have been active for some time in researching the coronavirus family and many other equally dangerous pathogens. Over 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects supported for a total value of about EUR 100 million are contributing to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing insights from several different scientific fields such as: virology, epidemiology, immunology, paths for new diagnostics and treatments, public health, medical devices, artificial intelligence, social behaviour, crisis management.
In addition, as stated on its website in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, the ERC offers ‘grantees the flexibility to adjust their research project”. This is an efficient measure because several ERC grantees already enquired about the possibility of addressing COVID-19 related research in their ongoing ERC project. All this information is publicly available on the ERC website, which also includes testimonies from funded ERC grantees on how bottom-up frontier research is critical to deliver new – and sometimes unexpected – insights relevant for better understanding and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for providing social behaviour and crisis management related solutions.
However, the ERC does not make calls for specific topics, since a guiding principle of ERC is that our researchers are free to pursue the goals they define and to decide on what they wish to work. In our view, this is a crucial way to generate the best science.
The Scientific Council wishes to clarify, in case of any doubt, that they absolutely endorse the view that scientific research will provide the best solutions to tackling pandemics, such as COVID-19.
Therefore, we regret Professor Ferrari's statement, which at best is economical with the truth. This Scientific Council remains dedicated to pursuing the mission for which the ERC was established: the support of bottom-up ground-breaking research. It is also worth noting that despite the pandemic, the ERC Executive Agency is struggling against the odds to actively process applications for our Consolidator Grants, Starting Grants, Synergy Grants and Proof of Concept Grants. These will support researchers throughout Europe to make the discoveries of the future.