News FocusProfile: Helga Nowotny

Keeping Europe's Basic Research Agency on Track

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Science  04 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6021, pp. 1134-1135
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6021.1134

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There were a few times when Helga Nowotny considered throwing in the towel and abandoning the fledgling European Research Council (ERC) she'd helped create. The thought would typically arise when she couldn't bear the weight of the Brussels bureaucracy anymore. Throughout the birth and the 4-year existence of the ERC, scientists' ideas on how to run a funding agency for creative frontier science have clashed with the European Commission's (EC's) rules for managing an international bureaucracy. For the scientific council—a group of 22 heavyweights from across Europe, which Nowotny now chairs—it has been a steep learning curve and a source of deep frustration. Nowotny still has two major tasks to accomplish before she steps down in 2013, at the end of the ERC's first 7-year mandate. One is an overhaul of the organizational structure that she hopes will put it on more solid ground and wrest power away from the officials and politicians of the EC. The other is a substantial hike in the ERC budget for the period from 2014 to 2020.