Ex-European Research Council president’s rebuttal
Below is the response by Mauro Ferrari to the ERC Scientific Council statement of April 8. The original language by the scientific council is reported also.
ERC Scientific Council: 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.
Response by Ferrari: “I supported the ERC vision, programmes, and initiatives with great enthusiasm throughout my presidency. These were all based on the “bottom-up” philosophy of research funding, which I find to be an essential mechanism for frontier science, and was what attracted me to the ERC. In only one occasion I departed from the “bottom-up” paradigm: I proposed to the Scientific Council that we should meet to discuss whether we should develop programmes (with specifics to be decided) to assist in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the magnitude of this tragedy, and the fact that the ERC supports some of the best scientists in the world, I thought it ethically imperative, at least to meet and discuss if there was any way that we could help. These programmes were envisioned to be in addition to, and not replacements of, the regular bottom-up funding programmes of the ERC.”
ERC Scientific Council: 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.
Response: “I always, strenuously, and successfully defended the programmes and mission of the ERC. I never missed a meeting where my attendance was required. I always respected all the terms and conditions of my employment agreement, as fully documented by the records available at the European Commission. I hereby authorize the EC to release and publish the terms of my employment contract, which was as special advisor to the Commission. I was employed part-time (80 per cent), with explicit pre-approval by the signing Commissioner for my declared external activities. During my presidency, the external activities I engaged in, in the US and in Europe, were only those that had been pre-approved by my employer, the European Commission. Oversight over my activities was duly exercised by the designated European Commission officer, and my activity reports were approved, without any negative feedback”.
ERC Scientific council: 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.
Response: “My only initiative not involving the ERC came in response to a direct request from President von der Leyen. It did not involve matters that pertained to the ERC, but rather questions of public health strategies, concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. The document I prepared for her, once completed, was circulated at her request to a distribution list she communicated, which did not include the ERC. I followed her instructions at every step of the way.”
ERC Scientific Council: 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.
Response: “All of my external activities were preauthorized by the European Commission, and were part of my employment contract. The time I dedicated to the ERC was always much greater than was stipulated by my contractual obligations. My external activities never took precedence over the ERC. For my external academic activity, I followed the precise model of my predecessor Presidents. I even volunteered as President-Designate for seven months before starting my Presidency, so I believe my commitment to the ERC cannot be factually questioned. There never was any conflict of interest, since all of my activities were screened for conflicts, and then authorised, by the European Commission. All of my above-reported statements can be easily validated, by reference to the documents in possession of the ERC and European Commission, including the original transactions of the Scientific Council meetings, with special reference to the consultation of March 17, 2020, and the correspondence between President von der Leyen and myself. In view of the transparency policy of the ERC, I trust these documents can be made publicly available, in full, un-redacted form”.