The Dutch aim for Openness and Togetherness

27 januari 2016

When unveiling its plans for the EU presidency in the first half of 2016, the Netherlands announced that its term would be “sober”. The British in particular—who do not associate the EU with teetotalism—reacted with surprise, until the Dutch realised that the confusion stemmed from poor translation. “Sober” was changed to “efficient”, clarifying the nation’s intentions for both its presidency and the attendant catering.

As befits an efficient presidency, all events will be held at one location: the old marine grounds in Amsterdam. There will be only one Competitiveness Council meeting on research and innovation, as the agenda was too slim to justify two. Perhaps the most symbolic decision is to reuse the logo from the last Dutch presidency in 2004.

Efficiency will be needed: the Dutch are facing a difficult and packed six months. The refugee crisis and security threats will no doubt influence the agenda, as will the looming possibility of a Brexit.

In this environment, the Dutch will have to choose their battles carefully. As far as research and innovation go, open access is without a doubt the top priority, closely followed by a proposal for improved framework conditions for research and innovation, and the Framework 7 ex-post evaluation.

The Dutch are widely seen as leaders on open science. The deal struck late last year between the Association of Universities in the Netherlands and scholarly publishers such as Elsevier, to create a publishing environment more friendly to open access, is a prime example.

Sander Dekker, the Dutch minister for education, culture and science, and research commissioner Carlos Moedas have already issued a joint statement urging publishers to adapt to 21st-century realities. They also voiced support for Dutch universities during their lengthy stand-off with publishers.

The deal did not impress everyone. In an interview with Neth-ER, Robert-Jan Smits, the director-general for research and innovation, said that the agreement lacks ambition, “to put it mildly”. Smits was disappointed that the agreements did not include an obligatory data-management plan, containing a request for beneficiaries to adhere to the Commission’s “fair principles” on open access, which state that publications should be findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

Be that as it may, the Dutch will use their presidency to campaign hard for a transition to a more open research system. Dekker will encourage other member states to seek similar nationwide deals between universities and scholarly publishers, and will push for the adoption of Council conclusions on open access. There will also be a ministerial conference on open science on 4 and 5 April 2016, which is intended to produce a European action plan.

In preparation for the presidency, the Dutch have stuck close to the Commission’s established priorities. Work will continue in existing areas, such as the circular economy and skills.

The preliminary preparations also saw the Dutch parliament call for a conference on the multi-annual financial framework. Several political parties, including the ruling Labour party, feel that the current budgetary system needs reform. A conference would be timely, as preparation for a revision of the framework will start during the Dutch presidency. Although little is expected from the revision, the debate could give us a glimpse of how member states view the future of EU budgeting.

One challenge will be not to lose other member states along the way; not all EU countries, for example, place the same importance on open access. Indeed, with the Schengen area agreement under fire, the EU’s periphery in turmoil and growing anti-EU movements in member states, keeping all on board will be a challenge in every aspect of the Dutch presidency.

In such heated circumstances, the Dutch tradition of consensus-based decision making, known as the polder model, might be crucial. The habit of involving all concerned parties in debate is slow, but effective. Preventing the splintering of an ever-more divided Europe would be an achievement in its own right.

Dutch education and research institutes, working through Neth-ER, won’t be idle. In an effort to harness the momentum of the Dutch presidency, institutes will be organising a multitude of conferences and other events. The Neth-ER office will also be organising preparatory and livestream events in Brussels, connected to ministerial conferences in the Netherlands.

We are looking forward to an inspiring and innovative presidency. Stay in touch with the Dutch.

This article previously appeared on the website of Research Europe\

Written by: Tim Buiting

More information
Website: EU Presidency website
Website: Competitiveness council
Article Neth-ER: Dutch universities and Elsevier reach Open Access Agreement
Interview Neth-ER: Interview with Robert Jan Smits
Website: ‘Fair’ principle of Open Access
Event: Open Science conference
Original article: Research Europe (log-in required)

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