Asked about his greatest achievements as EU Research Commissioner, mr Busquin immediately names three issues: the European Research Area (ERA), the pledge by all EU Heads of State and Government to increase research spending so that it is as close as possible to three per cent of GDP by 2010, and the emergence of a European research policy.

'The concept of a European Research Area that I launched is a reality. It has really become a point of reference in all the Member States, within the scientific community and in industry. That's not bad for starters!' He added that the three per cent plan has also become a point of reference, as well as a mode of comparison and a stimulant for increasing research and innovation in the EU Member States.

Finally, the consequence of the above, is that research and innovation are on the political agenda, according to mr Busquin, both at European level and in many Member States. 'When I arrived, the Commission had a framework programme. It now has a research policy and the framework programme is the instrument for realising this research policy. And of course the research policy is much larger than the framework programme.'

Mr Busquin is also confident that the concept of the ERA will outlive his term as Commissioner. Europe's renowned scientific institutions have recognised that there needs to be a European dimension to research, he said, and the necessary structure is being put in place. 'Of course we have to keep supporting it. The Seventh Framework Programme [FP7] will continue to help build it,' he added.

One has the impression that the Commissioner is disappointed to be leaving at such an interesting point in the evolution of European research. He admits that he has not achieved everything that he would have liked to achieve. In particular he would have liked to contribute more to the establishment of the European Research Council (ERC) and Technology Platforms.

He also concedes that he would have liked to 'close the file' on ITER, the international thermonuclear experimental reactor. After months of wrangling over whether the reactor should be based in Europe or Japan, there is no solution in sight, but the Commission is confident that at the end of the day the European candidate site of Cadarache will be chosen as the host site, within a broader approach to nuclear fusion research across the world.