Geoff Mulgan

This is not a day I think I can sum up, but I just wanted to mention four European cities, which I think pose some of the challenge for Atomium Culture and for all of us.

The first city is Athens, and in a way almost everything we talked about today perhaps has its origins in Athens and a spirit which we are all the descendants of, which was a spirit of observation, which is actually seeing things as they are, a spirit of argument, often ferocious argument between scientist, philosophers and so on, and the belief that it should happen publically and the very “publicness” of arguments, observation and discovery is what helps them to happen. That was a very distinctive approach to knowledge which in a way, for 2-2500 years Europe has benefited from and then, in some ways, helped to turn in a common property of the world. And yet, in some ways, always we are trying to recapture that spirit because our institutions tend to go against every aspect of that; they tend to become perhaps not very theoretical, not very observational and they tend to become a little bit siloed, conventional wisdoms, take over from argument and they become perhaps a little bit closed-off from publicness and transparency.

The second city to mention is Lisbon, which has already been mentioned a few times today. Ten years after the ambitions of the Lisbon Agenda and with only a few weeks to go, it’s clear: it wasn’t a successful programme; it was needed and probably what was done in his name was necessary, but it was not enough. We’ve talked about tomatoes and pigs, as one symptom of what Europe still appears to value most, perhaps not brains and knowledge. And perhaps, looking back what one of the elements which Lisbon could have benefited from, was something like an Atomium Culture. Atomium is described here as a platform; it’s a platform, not a programme, in a way a platform which has to be filled in with content. But one of the ways which Europe has, I think, not caught up or kept up with the rest of the world, is the interlinking of universities, business, entrepreneurship, civil society. And this is a field where in the past Europe did lead the world, but has fallen behind, has arguably allowed its institutions to become too hierarchical, too stagnant, not enough space perhaps for younger minds and voices. And that’s one of the ways in which I think the Lisbon Agenda was very good on rhetoric, very good on talk, but perhaps not so good in terms of action.

The third city to mention, as you did, is Copenhagen; only a week or two away and whatever else is wrong with Europe, I think on climate change has at least been more seriousness of purpose about the issue and about what could be done than in any other region in the world, but the very issue of climate change I think brings to the fore all of the challenges which Atomium Culture is part of resolving. One, this is a field where, if you are a scientist working in any aspect of climate change, you have to become a communicator. You have to try to explain very complex phenomena to a public audience who are hungry to understand what are rather difficult and ambiguous things to understand. I remember a politician about ten years ago saying to me that the problem with scientists was that they reminded him of the comment which the poet Shelley made of his mother; and Shelley said of his mother that she had lost the power of communication, but sadly not the power of speech. And sometimes, when experts do speak, they don’t communicate and yet, ten years on, I say the climate change field has in many ways done extraordinary well in communicating, but every scientist now needs to learn, not just the thirty-second piece for YouTube, but how to explain complex systemic phenomena in ways the public can understand. This is something which Atomium can help with.

There are one or two other points about Copenhagen, whether or not it is successful. One is that much of the focus of attention in equivalent summits in the last 5-10 years has been on technological innovation and scientific understanding; that is undoubtedly correct. But the more we learn about climate change, the more it’s clear that we also need other kinds of skill, other kind of method, because so much of what needs to be done is really about social organisation, about psychology, about our patterns and lifestyles which can’t be fixed through technology. And I think one of our challenges across Europe in the next five or ten years is keeping the momentum on technological innovation, the key issue of the XX Century, but also matching it with much more effective social innovation, innovation around human, psychology, behaviour, which are key not just to climate change, but also to issues like healthcare and ageing as well.

And the final point on climate change and Copenhagen is every young researcher working in that field in Europe wants to connect better with others across Europe, but they also want to connect globally. And I think it’s very important. We think of making Europe linked better as important, but only in so far that it also enables our young scientists and researchers to be active and members of the global community. That is what they aspire to, it’s the way knowledge and teams are organised and it’s very important that Europe doesn’t try to put boundaries around itself, which are inappropriate ones.

And that really leaves me to the fourth city I wanted to mention, which is Berlin. Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, that in a way is the great metaphor for Europe’s hope and future and in some ways, what we’ve been talking about today though, is the challenge of breaking down some of the less visible walls, which do exist within our institutions in the way we do business; we heard earlier about the ivory tower, the need to build bridges out of the ivory tower. Many of our institutions are quite siloed, better at communicating internally than externally and yet we know that our future depends on breaking down the silos, creating cross cutting ways of thinking, ways of seeing and ways of acting. The other respect in which I think the Berlin Wall is perhaps a useful metaphor for us is in a way its fall was a victory of good science over bad science. Its fall was a victory for one part of the enlightenment tradition of investigation and hypothesis and free enquiry and argument over another strand the enlightenment took which tried to suppress all of those things. And one of the battles which Atomium I think is part of, is how to embed much more deeply in our society, in the media and in the Internet is the strength of good science over bad science and I think a large part of that will be mobilising younger researchers to be confident voices when they see misleading facts, misleading truths on the television screen, in the newspapers or even in political debate. We have a public who I think are hungry for enlightenment and truth and reliable authority, but simply aren’t getting enough of that from any of the existing sources. And I think there’s a generation waiting to be helped, empowered to become the guardians of essentially a truth and discovery against falsehood. Well, the irony of the internet is that it’s both a wonderful circulator of truth, but also a wonderful circulator of untruths as well.

So, these are four cities, Athens, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Berlin, all of which, in a way, have been in our minds today. Atomium has set itself a very ambitious set of goals and we heard them made them even more ambitious this morning by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, as he encouraged our “audace”. In the face of these challenges, I think the real issue for Atomium will be how to find the key points of leverage, where an organisation with relatively limited resources, albeit a wonderfully strong network of partners, how it can find the points of leverage to have most influence. And with that, I think I will hand over to Cecilia, who has been one of the driving forces in Atomium and has the answers to all of the questions about how this emerging coalition, this platform, this space can be filled out through action on issues like climate change, health, ageing and so on and hopefully allow Europe to do what I think it hasn’t done in the last few decades, which is to make its many parts, its brilliant universities, its brilliant scientists, its brilliant companies, but to make the whole more than the sum of its parts. Thank you