Our friend Dominique Ristori

Dominique Ristori was appointed Director General of the Joint Research Center ( JRC ) on 1st December 2010.

Knowing his positive mind set and his sense of creativity, I have no doubt that he gives the JRC a new impulse and even more visibility and consideration.

I recently met with Dominique Ristori. We share a lot of memories, when he was cooperating with our Forum in his capacity as Director in the Directorate General for Energy.

I would like to thank him for accepting to answer my questions during an interview that you will find on the last page of this Bulletin.

JCC: How do you see the role of science in policy-making?

DR: The importance of a solid evidence base for policy-making has increased significantly over the past years. This is a direct consequence of policy files becoming more and more complex in nature, just think of biofuels or genetically modified organisms. The current financial crisis in Europe is another example, with matters requiring highly technical expertise. Policy-makers need to receive scientific facts and figures before decisions are taken. This gives science a huge opportunity, but also an enormous responsibility.

JCC: You started one year ago as Director-General of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). How has the JRC responded to the new policy demands?

DR: Being the only Directorate-General of the Commission carrying out direct research, we have set out the clear message that the JRC is the Commission’s in-house science service. With seven institutes located all over Europe, it is our role to make sure that the development, implementation and monitoring of European policies is based on the scientific state-of-the-art. While the JRC has build up a remarkable reputation in the scientific community in the past, the current economic challenges clearly demonstrated that the organisation had to become much more responsive to policy demands, providing full support to the Europe 2020 priorities. Take for instance our support to key issues such as climate change, environment, food security and nuclear safety.

JCC: Which priorities have you set for the JRC?

DR: The JRC supports the grand challenges of the future in a number of key priority areas: energy (in particular, energy efficiency, renewables, smart grids), clean transport, agriculture and food security, environment and climate change, health and consumer protection, information and communication technologies, safety and security including for nuclear. However, just being excellent in any of those areas is not enough. The key lies in connecting these fields horizontally in an interdisciplinary manner. It is for this reason that we are investing into further extending our competences in socioeconomic research and integrated modelling, making sure that the Commission has independent expertise at hand. Furthermore, we are building up a capacity in scientific foresight and policy anticipation. In times of accelerating societal and technological change, it is absolutely necessary to be able to look beyond the horizon and proactively inform policy-makers about issues that might require a policy response in the future.

JCC: Which role does the cooperation with partner organisations play in this context?

DR: A crucial one. While it is essential for the Commission to have its own in-house scientific advice, independent of national or private interests, we have to ensure that the expertise existing in the Member States and elsewhere is used to its full extent. This is the reason why one of my priorities has been to strengthen the JRC’s networking with strategic partners in Europe and world-wide. Apart from an increased dialogue with the European Parliament and Council, this means in particular teaming up with top players in the Member States representing industry, academia and civil society. For example, we signed recently an agreement with the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), aiming at establishing closer links between EU national science academies and the policy-making processes in the EU. Likewise, we are strengthening our collaboration with partners in key international partner countries, most notably the US. Take for instance the close partnership which we are developing with the US Department of Energy on electro-mobility and smart grids, in view of promoting a joint approach among scientists and common standards between the EU and the US. And, finally, don’t forget about our work for Africa: the JRC has just prepared a mapping of renewable energy in Africa in order to facilitate the use of sustainable energy sources in this continent.

JCC: And the future perspectives?

DR: The JRC will further develop scientific support to key European initiatives, such as electro-mobility, food security and eco-industries, in close cooperation with the European Institutions, other stakeholders and the scientific community, including at international level.

Jean-Claude Charrault
Director General