European Commission's Joint Research Centre and AAAS Sign Umbrella Cooperation Agreement

BRUSSELS, Belgium—AAAS and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) completed an agreement Wednesday to pursue cooperative efforts on a range of initiatives, with an initial focus on combating illicit traffic in nuclear material and other nuclear security issues.


Roland Schenkel (left) and Alan I. Leshner after signing the science cooperation agreement

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Roland Schenkel, director-general of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, at a ceremony here attended by about 350 people, including top European Commission officials, science and technology leaders, business executives, and students from Europe and the United States.

The signing follows months of discussion between the two organizations, and capped two days of events this week at the JRC site in Ispra, Italy, and at the European Commission (EC) headquarters in Brussels. Before the signing, Leshner delivered a lecture on trans-Atlantic cooperation in science and technology, the inaugural lecture in a new JRC annual series.

Both Leshner and Schenkel said their organizations are dedicated to achieving significant goals.

“The new agreement represents an important and exciting partnership,” said Leshner, who serves as the executive publisher of the journal Science. “This is also an opportunity to build a world scientific partnership. Both of our organizations already have ambitious international programs, and we will work with the JRC to address the serious challenges that confront us and to bring other nations into our collaborative effort.”

“Global challenges require global responses,” said Schenkel, who oversees an extensive set of institutes that comprise the European Commission's primary laboratories for policy support. “This agreement shows that there is a real momentum in science cooperation—now we must build on that momentum. Because Europe and the United States have similar values, we will be able to work effectively on joint efforts to engage with the public on science issues, to provide the best possible science advice to governments, and to align our responses to grand challenges of our time.”


Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science & Research

The event marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the EC's first research site in Ispra, which is located in lake country north of Milan. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science & Research, introduced Leshner and in a statement issued before the event, he said the deepening relationship could advance science and global well-being.

“The science community needs to constantly engage with all interested stakeholders and their challenge is to communicate science effectively,” Potočnik said. “International S&T cooperation has rightfully gained prominence for bettering relations with the world while addressing common global challenges. We at the European Commission welcome such platforms to explain what the JRC and others are doing to help create a safer, cleaner, healthier and more competitive Europe.”

The two-day engagement was the latest sign that the 27-member European Union intends to strengthen and expand its commitment to science and technology. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, announced in September that he would appoint the EC's first-ever chief scientific adviser for Europe. And a high-level science and technology panel earlier this month issued an ambitious series of recommendations for promoting scientific excellence and keeping Europe globally competitive.

The European Union and the United States governments first struck a science and technology agreement in 1998, and it was renewed in 2004 and in July this year. But the new agreement is the first between the EC's Joint Research Centre and AAAS; it is to last three years, with the option for renewals.

The agreement signed Wednesday 28 October spells out a range of potential areas for future joint efforts: advancing science and technology “for safety, security and sustainability;” supporting public understanding of science and public engagement between researchers and the public; encouraging international science cooperation; and helping build opportunities for women in science and technology.

More specifically, the agreement cites “discussions... resulting in the identification of nuclear forensics technology for combating illicit trafficking of nuclear material as a first primary area of common interest.”

An addendum to the agreement spells out an agenda that could be focused on a range of joint nuclear security initiatives. Among other options, JRC and AAAS could:

  • Host a series of workshop and produce a report that would culminate in the creation of joint centers for verification and monitoring technologies;
  • Help develop new nuclear security systems and inform the scientific and industrial communities in the United States and European Union about alternative production technologies; and
  • Produce an event at the AAAS Annual Meeting next February in San Diego on challenges for the verification of nuclear activities. That could lead to further workshops and joint reports.

“As we move from the bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control of the past to the broader, multilateral arms control required to continue to decrease nuclear arsenals, new verification, compliance, and monitoring protocols, tools and technologies must be invented and put in place to count existing nuclear weapons and stockpiles and to verifiably dismantle and down-blend weapons and weapons-grade fissile material,” the addendum says. “In addition, if nuclear power is to expand without an expansion of weapons proliferation, the nuclear fuel cycle will require better monitoring tools.”

Such efforts would involve the JRC's Institute for Transuranium Elements and the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.

A day before the signing ceremony (Tuesday 27 October), AAAS and the JRC convened a group of 22 E.U. science and technology leaders in Ispra for discussions of how science contributes to policy-making in their nations—and how the influence could be sharpened. Though a summary report of the dialogue will be completed in the weeks ahead, the group—representing government, business and non-governmental organizations—settled on a series of main themes:

  • In its relations with policymakers and the public, science must guarantee that it is guided by values of integrity and transparency, with its work underpinned by continuous peer challenge and evaluation;
  • The public plays a critical role in affecting policy, especially by influencing the positions adopted by elected officials and policymakers. A key role of science leaders is to inform the public and policymakers and aid in their understanding of policy implications;
  • As part of an ambitious effort to promote interaction between researchers and the public, science leaders should engage the public well in advance about potential ethical and societal issues that could arise from scientific advances;
  • Scientists must seek to provide a complete and accurate assessment of the potential risks in scientific research and policy. While assessments of risk and uncertainty are inherently difficult and complex, science leaders should not create unnecessary angst as a means of motivating public support for particular science policies; and
  • Scientists should answer, in an accurate and timely way, policymakers' requests for science information. At the same time, policymakers should encourage scientists to speak out even when their research or assessment may be unpopular.


AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner addressed top-level science and business leaders from the U.S. and Europe, who met 27 October in Ispra, Italy.

The day-long dialogue included several top officials from AAAS: Leshner; Al Teich, the head of Science & Policy Programs at AAAS; Norman P. Neureiter, senior adviser for the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and for the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy; and Tom C. Wang, director of international cooperation.

The Joint Research Centre is a directorate general of the European Commission. It provides customer-driven scientific and technical support for the conception, development, implementation, and monitoring of European Union policies. Further, it functions as a reference center of science and technology for the Union. It serves the common interest of the European Union member states, while being independent of private and national special interests. It has seven scientific institutes, located at five different sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, with a wide range of laboratories and unique research facilities.

AAAS—the American Association for the Advancement of Science—is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Signaling, and Science Translational Medicine. It has a range of initiatives in science policy, education, international affairs, and security.