Hopes of ‘passionate’ replacement for top EU research official

Approval of Jean-Eric Paquet’s transfer to Japan ambassador would create space for a more evangelical approach, observers say

April 13, 2022
European Commission in Brussels illustrating opinion about European universities alliance
Source: iStock

The expected replacement of the European Union’s top research and innovation official, Jean-Eric Paquet, has been seen by some as a chance to appoint a stronger advocate for an oft-neglected area in Brussels.

Politico has reported that Mr Paquet, the director-general of research and innovation in the European Commission, has been signed off by the body’s leadership as the next EU ambassador to Japan.

The commission and EU delegation to Japan had previously refused to comment on Mr Paquet’s rumoured transfer, which would leave a gap at the top of his department.

“The community will be looking forward to someone who is really passionate about research and innovation and can further boost the appreciation of it inside and outside the commission,” said Mattias Björnmalm, deputy secretary general of the Cesaer group of science and technology universities.

A career civil servant, Mr Paquet joined the commission in 1993 and spent three years as its ambassador to Mauritania before moving to lead its research and innovation work in 2018.

In his current role he is responsible for initiatives such as the €95.5 billion (£79.4 billion) Horizon Europe research funding programme.

“It's natural that there will be disruption with a leadership change, but I have a lot of trust in the director level and the overall professionalism of the commission,” said Dr Björnmalm. “It doesn’t stand or fall on a single person.”

Robert Madelin, who spent 12 years as a commission director-general before becoming a consultant, said commission president Ursula von der Leyen “tends to keep posts vacant on average longer than her predecessors, so [there is] no need to hold our breath” on Mr Paquet’s replacement.

During his four-year tenure Mr Paquet has publicly taken a stern stance in EU-China research relations and talked up the importance of societally relevant work.

His transfer still needs final sign-off from the commission’s diplomatic chief and officials in Japan.


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