Celebrating CERN

Les 50 ans du CERN

50 years at the forefront of science

un demi-siècle à la pointe de la science

CERN 50th Anniversary Celebration
Tuesday, 19 October 2004
Meyrin site

Mr Jacques Chirac
President of the French Republic
(translated from french)

Your Majesty,

President Deiss,

Dear Federico Mayor,


Dr Aymar [Director General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research],

Ladies and gentlemen,

Science is at the heart of humanity’s questions and aspirations.  It is a source of progress and freedom.  It feeds humanity’s dreams, hopes, doubts and sometimes fears.  It is an expression of humanity’s intelligence and curiosity.  Science contributes to the eternal human quest to understand the universe, matter and life.

It is a driving force in modern societies and must be a key priority for political discussion and action in Europe.  The vitality and innovation of science make it a strategic factor in international competition.  It seeks and develops solutions to the many major challenges of our time, such as finding new sources of energy, fighting climate change, and curing cancer and genetic diseases.

Therefore, I am particularly happy to be with you today to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of a great and wonderful European adventure:  CERN, which is such a fine symbol of the scientific ideal and scientific values.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, a handful of visionaries understood that science had to play a major role in Europe’s material and moral reconstruction.  These outstanding men were animated by the spirit of discovery, emulation and sharing that had inspired the European physicists of the early twentieth century, whose discoveries, including relativity, quantum mechanics and radioactivity, prepared the way for an unprecedented scientific revolution.

A few enthusiastic physicists, working with François de Rose, to whom I want today to pay special tribute, set about planning the rebirth of a united Europe to explore the new frontiers of knowledge.  I would like to mention a few of the many names involved, such as Francis Perrin, Pierre Auger, Lew Kowarski, Niels Bohr, John Cockroft and Edoardo Amaldi.  Their efforts resulted in the creation of CERN on 29 September 1954.

The new laboratory chose a symbolic site for its location.  A genuinely international science city has been created in this land of peaceful sharing of knowledge straddling the border between France and Switzerland.  One of the entrances is now in France, where the Charles de Gaulle gate was named in honour of the man who made it possible to expand CERN into the countryside around Gex.

I would like to salute the 6,500 scientists from 80 countries who are working at CERN – half the world’s researchers specializing in particle physics.  I also want to salute all the engineers, technicians and administrative staff at CERN who share the same enthusiasm for this tremendous adventure.

For fifty years now, CERN has been seeking to recreate the conditions that existed just after the Big Bang and to explore the structure of matter.

This quest is continuing with the construction of the world’s largest accelerator, the 27km-long LHC.  In the next three years, new and outstandingly sensitive detectors will be used to analyse the millions of collisions taking place each second in the new and amazing collider.  This may make it possible to break new ground in our knowledge of matter by revealing the mysterious particle physicists often talk about.

This great project will ensure CERN’s place as the world’s leading particle physics and high energy research centre.  It will help us work towards solving the most difficult problems in physics, such as understanding the very first instants of the universe, anti-matter and the dark matter of the universe.

In addition to work on these fundamental problems, CERN has also produced many innovations we are benefiting from today, such as medical imaging, as well as – it’s been mentioned – the worldwide web on the Internet, which was first dreamed up here.

The example of CERN, with its many spin-offs, shows that science has occupied a steadily growing place in society over the last fifty years.  For France and for Europe, investment in research is more than a priority.  It is a prerequisite for economic growth and employment.  It is necessary for our survival in international competition.

Human intelligence is Europe’s greatest asset.  And yet, in terms of Nobel prizes, publications, patents and science students, Europe is losing ground at an alarming rate.  Let us not fall behind.  Let us not give up this quest, which is the key to our future.

Competition is an inherent part of modern science.  And scientific competition is increasing today.  It no longer comes only from the major powers in the developed world, such as the United States or Japan.  Each passing day sees more competition from the emerging countries, like India and China.

Europe cannot resign itself to the so-called inevitability of its decline when it has everything it needs to succeed.  Research in Europe has a long tradition of excellence.  Curiosity and intellectual freedom, which are the foundations of the scientific approach, are values that Europe has cultivated for centuries.  Our countries’ dense network of universities, research centres and public and private laboratories offers tremendous potential.

To meet this challenge, we adopted the Lisbon Strategy and pledged to devote 3% of our wealth to research by 2010.  We must also promote the scientific culture by attracting the best students to careers in research and keeping them in Europe by offering them more attractive working conditions and career prospects, while modernizing the structure of our scientific system and enhancing exchanges between public and private laboratories.

As regards France, I wanted the government to propose a new pluriannual research policy Bill to Parliament.  This Bill has given rise to a debate in the scientific community in France.

The new Act should give French research the resources it needs to achieve this new ambition.

The effort that France is preparing to make in the coming years signals a national awareness of the role that researchers play and their prominent place in society.  And it fits naturally into the framework of European and international cooperation, since research in many areas requires our countries to join forces and pool their resources.

CERN laid the groundwork for building a scientific Europe and has carved out a place for itself in the front ranks of worldwide research.  It is open to the world and a model for other major science and technology projects – I’m thinking of Galileo and of ITER, the huge experimental machine that Europe is planning to install in Cadarache which requires international cooperation on a huge scale.

In addition to these vast projects, Europe needs to encourage the creation of centres and networks of excellence.  It needs to adopt a strategic approach in the key areas of modern science, such as biomedical research, exploring the brain, developing an AIDS vaccine, artificial intelligence and robotics, nanotechnology, climate and ecosystem modelling, biotechnology and finding new sources of energy, to name a few.  France calls on the European Commission to draft ambitious proposals to mobilize Europe around major projects that will put it at the forefront of global competition.

In these areas, the European Union needs to invent new and even more effective forms of cooperation.  It needs to improve the coordination of research work done in different countries through sensible allocation of funding.

Beyond this, I would like a discussion to take place at the European level on the accounting treatment of government expenditure on research and development, which is in essence an investment in the future.  I think that it would be better, and more in keeping with Europe’s ambition to be the most competitive knowledge economy in the world, to place this expenditure outside the criteria for the Stability and Growth Pact.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Science started out as an explanation of the world.  It is also increasingly becoming an instrument of power in the world, power which, like any power, mustn’t be wielded without precaution and regulation.  Scientific advances bring us hope and progress, but they also raise serious ethical issues and even give rise to fears on occasion.  We need to deal with these issues and fears, without giving in to the illusion of a new scientific ideology decreeing that anything is desirable as long as it is possible.  Nor must we fall into the opposite trap of a new obscurantism that rejects progress.

The time has come for a new contract between science and citizens.  It is up to science to anticipate society’s expectations and questions, to work “for the honour of the human spirit”.  It is up to science to improve our lives and our environment.  It is up to science to explain its discoveries and justify its choices, taking an ethical approach that is in line with its responsibilities and being open to public debate in a spirit of transparency.  It is up to society to acknowledge the full role of its researchers.  It is up to society to support them in carrying out their tasks.  It is up to society to inspire its youth to join in the most wonderful of adventures, the quest for knowledge.

Thank you.

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Version française (originale)