Can Science Save Europe?

VIENNA– Europe’s current financial squeeze defies easy solutions. Self-inflicted austerity has met popular restlessness for more tangible measures to revive economic growth and create jobs. Protesters vividly express widespread frustration with deepening inequality, and condemnation of privileges of a global financial elite comes uncomfortably close to implicating government.

In previous times, such a situation would have been described as pre-revolutionary. In today’s world, the consequences may seem more benign, but they are no less worrisome: a loss of solidarity, a return to nationalist insularity, and greater scope for political extremism.

Europe’s image has suffered accordingly, notably from the perspective of Asia’s booming economies. Whereas China, India, and others have enjoyed continuing economic growth and investment in research and innovative capacity, Europe is perceived as being on the brink of decline, economically as well as politically. Worse still, Europe also seems intent on ignoring its persistent strengths.

Those strengths lie in Europe’s science base, part of the cultural heritage that shapes European identity. In terms of numbers – whether of scientific publications, researchers, or overall access to high-quality tertiary education – Europe compares favorably with its international partners (which are also competitors).