#ERC describes Mauro Ferrari’s statement ‘as at best economical with the truth’

| April 8, 2020

Professor Mauro Ferrari

Yesterday (7 April) Professor Mauro Ferrari, the European Research Council’s president, took the unusual step of resigning from his post by email and issuing a scathing statement, in which he decribed how his “idealistic motivations were crushed” – this statement was sent by Professor Ferrari to the FT and no doubt others for maximum coverage, writes Catherine Feore.

Ferrari’s statement was wide-ranging in its condemnation, going well beyond what he saw as problems with the EU’s approach to research. He wrote that he had been motivated by his enthusiasm for the great reputation of this world-leading funding agency [ERC], and his “idealistic dream of a United Europe”, as well as “serving the needs of the world, through service to the best of science”. Ferrari wrote: “Those idealistic motivations were crushed by a very different reality, in the brief three months since I took office. The COVID-19 pandemic shone a merciless light on how mistaken I had been: In time of emergencies people, and institutions, revert to their deepest nature and reveal their true character.”

March vote of ‘no confidence’

However, by this afternoon (8 April) The European Research Council (ERC) issued a press release telling a different story. Ferrari had already received a written vote of ‘no confidence’ from 19 other members of the ERC Scientifically Council, who requested that he resign from his post after less than three months in office on 27 March. 

The ERC points out that the request for Professor Ferrari’s resignation by the Scientific Council was made for four reasons: he did not understand the frontier science approach of the ERC, which is one part of the EU’s research landscape – despite public pronouncements, this was not reflected in his discussions with other members of the Council; he failed 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; he made several personal initiatives within the Commission, without consulting or tapping into the collective knowledge of the Scientific Council, and instead used his position to promote his own ideas; and because fellow council members felt his other activities were taking precedence over his commitment to the ERC. 

One of Professor Ferrari’s accusations against the ERC and the EU in general was that it did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus. The ERC defends itself, writing that while they didn’t have a ‘special initiative’ over 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects supported for a total value of about €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 and crisis management.

Professor Ferrari’s behaviour has been less than exemplary and his statement, as the European Research Council’s press release points out is “economic with the truth”. We hope he withdraws his statement, but we also recognize that passions run high in these difficult times. Professor is an Italian national. Italy has been Europe’s ground zero for COVID-19 in Europe, within weeks of becoming the ERC’s president, his country was experiencing the full force of a pandemic that brought the Italian economy to a standstill, overwhelmed its health service and has killed thousands of people. Wouldn’t you want to do more?

The role of President of the European Research Council has been filled by some of Europe’s most renowned scientists. While the scientific expertise of the holder of this office must not be in question, consideration must be given to the personal characteristics to lead what Ferarri himself describes as “this world-leading funding agency”.

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