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Irish People in the EU

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James Gavigan
I am Head of Unit for European Research Area policy in DG Research

Originally from I am from Collinstown, a village in Westmeath on the shores of Lough Lene18 km north of Mullingar.

About your job: What I do: The Commission’s Research Directorate General where I work employs almost 2000 people. Most are involved in running programmes to fund collaborative European research projects in which researchers from universities, research centres and private companies take part and for which the annual budget is about € 7.5 Billion. I am not involved in the day-to-day running of these programmes. I am in charge of a policy unit of 15 staff whose job it is to develop concrete new ideas and initiatives to increase the amount, impact and overall efficiency of research carried out in the EU - With over 90 % of public research funding in the EU decided nationally, wasteful repetition (the same research done in different countries) and missed opportunities (countries not learning from nor collaborating with each other) often occur especially in areas of science and technology where the large-scale resources needed to stay ahead are beyond the means of even the largest EU countries.
Central to my work of establishing a ‘European research area’ is an unrelenting effort to deepen and systematise co-operation between the Commission and national research ministries. This is vital to ensure that EU and national research policies and programmes mutually reinforce each other and pursue the same long-term shared goals.
The best thing about my job: The opportunity and privilege to help develop research in Europe into an efficient world-leading system for generating the new knowledge (know-how, understanding, inventions & innovations) upon which the future of our economy and well-being depends.
The greatest challenge: Steering an even-handed and steady course towards long-term objectives in the face of short-term unpredictability and changing political priorities while upholding a fair and equitable notion of what is in the best interests of all EU member states – i.e. not playing into the hands of the strongest or most vocal vested interests, nor making do with lowest common denominator solutions.

Why the EU? When working as a research physicist in Ireland (TCD) and France (CNRS), I benefited directly from the Commission’s efforts to promote European research co-operation and was captivated by the enthusiasm and achievements of the various officials with whom I came into contact to the point that I wished to do the same. Since joining in 1990, I have worked in a variety of research-related areas. The common features of my work over almost 20 years have been to be constantly challenged, to be on a never-ending learning curve, to see effort and diligence rewarded and to work with and learn from highly motivated colleagues from a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds.

How do you think Ireland has benefited most from the EU? Apart from the undeniable economic and social benefits, in my view the EU has had a very positive collective psychological impact on Ireland. It has been a vehicle and a forum for Ireland to reinforce its identity and confidence and to forge its destiny into that of the whole of Europe on an equal footing alongside all other European nations regardless of size and to step out of the shadow of neighbours and history. Ireland wholeheartedly plays its part in the EU and has indeed shown its ability as a country and through its citizens to punch at times well above its weight which I trust will continue. Go n’éirí an bóthar linn!

Based: Brussels

Languages: Five to differing degrees - Irish (not as much as I would like), English, French (learnt at Cistercian College Roscrea and used on a daily basis since 1988), Spanish (picked up travelling in Spain as a student, later perfected with my Spanish wife and eight and a half years working for the Commission in Seville), Italian (learnt on research exchange trips to Parma and Turin – largely dormant)

Books/Music: Very difficult to single out favourites – very much a function of mood – but here goes:
On the books front, certainly up near the top for me is ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. This highly amusing story is on one level, a remarkable exposé of the villainous nature of humanity embodied in Sancho Panza alongside its often absurdly noble nature embodied in Alonso Quixano – the sort of behaviour we see all around us in our everyday lives. The world around us is full of Sanchos and Quixotes! Joyce's 'Dubliners' is also a favourite of mine.
On the music front, one of the first albums to spring to mind is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ with every track a timeless classic and which left a permanent impression on me in my early explorations of music in the 1970s. But the right bits of Bach, Rodrigo, Lúnasa, Christy Moore, Jim Croce, Freddy White, Paco de Lucía, Led Zeppelin, The Who and others at the right time can be truly sublime ...