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On 7 April 2020, Mauro Ferrari, president of the European Research Centre (ERC) resigned after only three months at his post. Opposing statements soon followed with Professor Ferrari publishing a statement in the Financial Times while the ERC published afterwards a statement refuting his claims.
Professor Ferrari alleged to have proposed a special programme dedicated to COVID-19 that was rejected by the Scientific Council, a body which defines the scientific funding strategy and methodologies of the ERC. The ERC official statement denied this by stating that the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation was already developing new programmes “through the appropriate channels” at the time, which made the proposal irrelevant. ERC’s mission is primarily to fund bottom-up proposals in fundamental research where researchers themselves propose projects which are then evaluated against a set of criteria. A dedicated top-down approach for priority fields of research is covered by other funding instruments of the Horizon 2020 programme.
It soon turned out that Professor Ferrari had already received a written unanimous vote of no confidence from the Scientific Council and was asked for his resignation beforehand. In its official statement, the Scientific Council highlighted Professor Ferrari’s failure to participate in important meetings while spending a great amount of time on continued outside activities in the US as a board member of a biotech company and affiliate professor in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Washington. He was also already back in the US when the European lockdowns began. Finally, the statement puts forth his personal initiatives made to the European Commission while bypassing the ERC and its Scientific Council.
Regarding the funding related to COVID-19, EUR 48.5 Million have been allocated for emergency Horizon 2020 collaborative projects for vaccines; EUR 45 Million for Innovative Medicines initiative, EUR 80 Million for the German vaccine maker Curevac and EUR 164 Million in grants for small business developing COVID-19 solutions.