by Fabio Cassanelli and Andrea Sorbello
Scientists for EU is a collaboration among universities, researchers, students and more formed in the wake of the 2015 general election to state a clear case for the UK membership in the European Union. Rivista Europae has interviewed Mr. Mike Galsworthy, one of the founders of the campaign, and ask him about the project. If you want to support “Scientists for EU”, you can find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter: @Scientists4EU.
1) “Scientists for EU” is a campaign to convince the British people that UK benefits from its membership in the European Union. How would to try to convey this argument?
We represent the science community that is pro-EU and wants the UK to stay in. So we are openly campaigning for the UK to stay in, yes. However, the specific focus of our campaign is the science, because that is the area we know best and we can provide strong evidence that the EU benefits UK science. That in turn benefits the UK economy hugely, so it should be of interest to the public.
From what we can tell, most scientists in the UK are pro-EU. Certainly our universities are campaigning to stay in, and the past president, current president and incoming president of the UK’s most prestigious scientific society (the Royal Society) have all spoken up for the EU. Essentially, our followers and supporters may have their own reason for being pro-EU, but our mission is really to raise the importance of science in the debate. Science, research and innovation are often overlooked in political debates, such as those around general elections. That’s not good. But here in this referendum debate, we see the opportunity to bring it to the front of discussions.
2) Could you explain why the UK will be poorer if people choose to leave the EU?
I’ll give you three reasons: Science programme, free movement of talent, and setting common international policies (programme, people, policies!). The EU science programme is actually now an excellent programme. After years of bureaucracy, it is now world-leading in vision. Most importantly, it allows multinational collaborations because all the EU governments pay in. That means that a UK lab, Italian lab, German company and Dutch lab can all just team up and apply for a grant together. If there were no common pot of funds, how could they work together? None of their governments would take the bill for an international team, and trying to apply to several governments at the same time is a mess.
The EU also protects and promotes free movement of talented scientists. The science programme has schemes like Marie Curie that promote circulation and the EU law of free movement means that UK scientists can work in any EU lab they want and we can also bring in the best to our UK labs. It’s a win-win that makes our science workforce more dynamic.
In terms of policies (I hear that in Italian “policies” and “politics” is the same word! In English it’s very different) — so in terms of common vision and common rules, the EU is an excellent place to make those agreements. We don’t make international agreements in the awkward way we do with other countries, rather we have a permanent Commission and a Parliament – so a real structure to deal with common concerns and make sure that there is a democratic input to it. So when we make multi-national EU deals around research and innovation (like data privacy, energy, climate change), we do so in a world-leading way. Standards that we agree in the EU usually quickly become global standards.
All of these are under threat if we Brexit. Importantly with the first one (participation in EU science programme), many Euro-sceptics are saying it’s not a problem, because non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway buy into the EU science programme from outside… so we can just do the same. It’s actually not that easy, any re-entry would have to be negotiated. UK restrictions on immigration from the EU would absolutely shut us out from parts of the programme (like what happened to the Swiss after they voted for immigration controls in Feb 2014), and because of the UK’s size and current dominance of the UK on the programme, that would probably not be permitted to the same degree if we were outsiders.
3) Do you think British citizens are aware of what Europe does for science? Moreover, are they aware of the importance of science for economic growth? In sum, are you afraid of being considered an elitist?
No, no and yes. These are the key issues we need to deal with. Most people have little idea of how much the EU benefits UK science and in turn how vital science is to a long-term stable economy. They just don’t know the return-on-investment statistics. So we really need to communicate that. This will then help pop the “elitist” bubble.
We’re not looking to get EU grants to keep ourselves comfortable in ivory towers… We are saying that the UK is the world’s most productive country in science, this drives growth and jobs across the economy – and the EU is a massive help in our science being able to do that. Furthermore, we’re solving health, energy and environmental problems as part of that research and innovation growth that provides the jobs and quality of life.
4) Do you believe UK citizens will support a Brexit? Let’s imagine the vote takes place tomorrow. What would be the outcome?
Yes, we are very concerned people would. Furthermore, in early discussions of the debate, there was no mention of science, research and innovation. Whatever the British people choose, they choose. However, we want to make sure they are fully informed about all the issues.
If it were held tomorrow, it’s very hard to say. Last year, there were more who wanted to leave than to stay in. This year, it was looking increasingly pro-EU until Greece, TTIP and the immigration crisis. I think the pro-EU side still has a slight edge, but with about a third of the population still undecided, it’s very very hard to know.
5) “Scientists for EU” is a non-partisan campaign. Do you think there is something wrong with the conservative campaign?
The big problem with Cameron’s proposed reforms is that he wanted to opt out of EU workers’ rights. This is the thing that the UK Labour party and trade unions really valued about the EU – so they threatened to campaign for a Brexit if that “deal” went through. It cause a mess and leaves the usually pro-EU Labour supporters in a bit of confusion. It looks like now the left (Labour) will being campaigning for the EU anyway.
6) One final, broader question. Do you think an eventual Brexit would help anti – EU movements expanding throughout Europe? Or maybe, that it would inspire other Member States to follow on the same course?
It would have lots of complex effects. Some in the EU would hate the UK – others would see it as a sign that the EU is falling apart and would want to get out too. It would cause more turmoil in the EU – which is just what we don’t need right now… in the UK, the EU or the world.