Disappointed in the European Union’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the head of its top science organization has resigned.
Mauro Ferrari was president of the European Research Council (ERC) since Jan. 1. His resignation was effective immediately, according to the council.
Ferrari claimed he had run into institutional and political roadblocks when he tried to establish a scientific program to fight the virus and was “extremely disappointed by the European response” to the pandemic, according to a report by The Associated Press.
“I have seen enough of both the governance of science, and the political operations at the European Union,” Ferrari wrote in a statement to the Financial Times, the AP reported. “I have lost faith in the system itself.”
The feeling was apparently mutual. The research council released a statement saying it had reached a unanimous no-confidence vote on Ferrari on March 27. The council claimed 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” and that Ferrari’s statement was “at best… economical with the truth.”
The council also said Ferrari missed many important meetings, spent “extensive time in the USA” and failed to defend the council’s program and mission. He also allegedly made several personal initiatives within the European Commission without consulting the council.
“Professor Ferrari has stated that the reason for his resignation is that the scientific council did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus,” the council said in its statement. “To address this point specifically, we did not support a special initiative because that is not our remit and the Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate General, with which we are connected, was already very active in developing new programmes to support this research through the appropriate channels.
“Indeed, many ERC funded researchers have been active for some time in researching the coronavirus family and many other equally dangerous pathogens,” the statement said. “Over 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects supported for a total value of about EUR 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, crisis management.”
The council’s vice president will assume the president’s duties on an interim basis until the EU’s chooses Ferrari’s successor, according to the AP report.
European Commission spokesman Johannes Bahrke told the news service that the EU produced “the most comprehensive package of measures combating the coronavirus.” The EU has come under fire for failing to act forcefully to coordinate its response to the pandemic as the virus spread throughout parts of Italy and Spain. Health policy is primarily a responsibility of national governments, the AP report said.