Eva Kaili: We shouldn't have a hard Brexit

Written by Rajnish Singh on 2 May 2017 in Interviews
Interviews

Eva Kaili on the importance of investing in science and research, why Brexit should exclude scientific cooperation, and why she doesn't want online platforms to censor fake news.

Eva Kaili | Photo credit: Natalie Hill


Clearly, when far-right Polish MEP Janusz Kowin Mikke recently argued that "Of course women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, and they are less intelligent," he hadn't taken the time to meet Eva Kaili, the Chair of Parliament's STOA scientific panel.

The Greek S&D group deputy is an architecture and engineering graduate, has an MA in international relations, and is currently working on a PHD in international political economy. Oh, and she's also a former journalist and news anchor.

With all this talent and her wide-ranging interests, Kaili is as 'Renaissance Man' - or should that be 'Renaissance Woman' - as it gets.


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From a relatively young age she was combining learning complicated engineering formulas with the cut and thrust of politics. At 23 she was elected president of her university's student association and was an official on Thessaloniki's City Council. She went on to become the youngest ever member of the Greek Parliament.

"The reason why I was involved in politics was because I didn't just want to keep complaining about things I didn't like. I wanted to find solutions."

She also wanted to use politics to fight for things she believed in, including campaigning with the Love146 organisation against child trafficking.

She was elected to the European Parliament in 2014. Her main motivation for switching from politics in Athens to Brussels was, "the economic crisis that hit Greece. I realised that that the main decisions would be taken in Brussels. I felt that I would be more useful here because the legislation the European Parliament passes is extremely important and affects the lives of all Europeans, especially the Greeks."

Kaili says she enjoys her role as Chair of the European Parliament's scientific and technological options assessment panel (STOA).

Although the Parliament's industry, research and energy committee (ITRE) also covers issues relating to science and research, she is keen to point out there are clear differences.

One of them is that STOA is made up of MEPs not just from the ITRE committee, but from nine other parliamentary committees, giving it a more cross-parliamentary outlook.

"Our main role is to be able to provide to all members, data and scientific evidence that will help them make decisions to pass legislation. It's something no Parliament committee can do. We provide specific research and answer MEPs' questions, so they can suggest workshops and come into contact with interesting scientists who are specialists in the topics the MEPs are investigating."

Out of all the different technologies and innovations the panel is currently scrutinising, Kaili is particularly thrilled by the potential of driverless vehicles.

"Our main goal in STOA for the next two and half years will be to discover what the future of mobility and autonomous vehicles will bring. It's huge, industry is investing a lot of money."

Other innovations on the STOA radar which are of particular interest to Kaili and could be just as disruptive as autonomous cars are financial technology - also known as FinTech - and block chain technology.

Though STOA has five main thematic areas it is currently evaluating, it also recognises increasing number of new innovative technologies that can potentially change society and the economy, including the impact of new innovations such as megadata and artificial intelligence.

So does she believe the EU is doing enough to support scientific research in Europe? Kaili responds emphatically, "What is enough? It's never enough," before adding, "I love research and I believe the money you spend investing, will multiply and will provide returns in many different ways."

With the UK voting for Brexit, Kaili hopes R&D cooperation will not be negatively affected. She points out that many research projects in Britain are heavily reliant on EU funding.

She gives an example of a project in Bristol, looking at composite materials, which are harder than steel, but very light and transparent and can take on different shapes.

The material's benefits combined with 3D printing could have a major impact on the aviation sector, with planes being designed that will be lighter and therefore fly faster.

"I hope R&D will not be affected. We have excellent professionals in the UK who are European, and we have students who are from the EU, since research is co-funded, I actually believe we really need to think about what we are going to do in the future."

However, she is upbeat concerning scientific cooperation post-Brexit, saying, "I think we will find ways to continue to work together in the future. Although I wanted to see the UK remain, we shouldn't have a hard Brexit."

But she also hints that Britain cannot expect to enjoy the same privileges it had with EU membership. "If everything remains the same it will not be a Brexit. This is not just a union of benefits, but also during the hard times, we stick together. However, future cooperation on science and research should be totally excluded from any of the Brexit negotiations, along with the exchange of students."

She is also confident that beyond Horizon 2020, funding has been secured for future European R&D. "We in STOA, working with the ITRE committee, have ensured future financial support through the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) and the Juncker Plan."

According to Kaili, about half a trillion euros has been secured. The EU also expects to attract more private money to invest in higher risk projects.

Kaili also mentions the "brain drain" of recent years, where European scientists left to work primarily in the US and China, "because we could not keep them working in European industry."

When asked about why there aren't more women working in the science and research sector, she highlights the work-life challenges that many women face. Raising children is something she believes politicians do not properly acknowledge. Getting more women into science and research jobs requires quotas and EU funding.

She also mentions far-right Polish MEP Janusz Kowin Mikke's "women should be paid less" outburst as the kind of sexist attitudes many women face. "This is the kind of mentality we need to fight, although some countries have now passed legislation to make salaries equal."

Kaili also wants to see girls encouraged into science and digital technology subjects from a much younger age. The digital industries, she argues, are dominated by men. "We don't have enough women entering the digital sector."

She praises the UK for addressing this issue by providing free lessons in computer coding to young children. "This is another reason why I am worried about the UK leaving. They had the foresight to address future needs by working with companies to provide lessons in schools. We now have pilot projects in other member states providing free coding lessons. If you know how to code, it will give you new ideas to create start-ups and new apps."

With the problem of 'fake news' dominating media headlines, Kaili explains that, "In STOA we realised fake news is going to be an issue of much discussion. We already provide scientific evidence to MEPs and policymakers to help them make the right decisions, so we thought we should expand the scope of STOA."

The panel will be launching a new information hub, "where we will try and provide citizens with scientific data that they can use to make up their own minds." However, she stresses, "We should not force the truth, I think this would a very scary development."

Kaili believes that if content was labelled fake news and was changed or banned, this would be worse than publishing fake news in the first place.

Instead, she wants to work with digital platforms, "where content will not be touched by anybody, or banned or the transfer responsibility of publishing to platforms on what we can or cannot see."

Instead, she wants to use tools such as algorithms to check disputed articles and then provide readers with links to alternative articles.

Kaili is also firmly against any form of self-censorship by the major digital platforms. She believes it is up to the reader to make up their own mind as to what they want to read and whether to believe it or not. "I believe this is the democracy of social media. Unfiltered information works both ways, where whoever provides fake news, I can also comment on."

However she stresses this is very different from publishing hate speech; "There are already legal instruments, where content can be taken down. You should be able to accept my point of view, which may be crazy, but I have the right to speak, we need to protect the freedom of speech, because if we start touching content it will be a danger for democracy."

 

About the author

Rajnish Singh is commissioning editor of the Parliament Magazine

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