Biostar Beta. Not for public use.
Forum: What is the future of EMBL-EBI (and European bioinformatics in general) in case of a 'Brexit'?
16
Entering edit mode

I am quite surprised not having seen this discussed earlier, because EBI is such an essential resource for European and world-wide bioinformatics. On Thursday, 23 June, there will be referendum in the UK whether to leave or stay in the EU.

EBI provides and contributes a wealth of resources, like Ensembl, web services, databases, and is also the largest bioinformatics centre, service provider and employer in Europe as to my knowledge? It appears to me me that the possible Brexit puts these contributions at a very high risk and uncertainty. What would be the consequences of such act, has anyone thought about it? Working in both EU and non-EU countries, I have some impression, however Norway adopts most of the EU legislation rapidly without being involved in the decision making. Do you agree with me, that the loss or limitations of the EBI for the Bioinformatics community would be a major set back for Europe?

Please discuss, I think it is our responsibility to involve us also in political debates if the consequences affect science.

What is the European Bioinformatics Institute? The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) is Europe's home for big data in biology. EMBL-EBI was established in 1994 on the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge in the UK, and is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). We have 570 members of staff, including scientists and engineers at all career stages, software developers, user experience designers, administrators and many others.

Entering edit mode
0

Good question. I'm hoping that since the funding mechanisms for EMBL predate the current version of the EU that Brexit wouldn't muck this up. But man would I ever like to hear from someone who actually knows...

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Devon Ryan
90k
Entering edit mode
0

I hope too it would not. But maybe it would, e.g. by restricting immigration from EU, restraining investments, the mere uncertainty, crude statements ... I think we need to speak out in this matter.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
0

Just on a timely side note, did I mention that there is for obvious reasons evidently not going to be any Brexit? So the question is now irrelevant.

ADD REPLYlink 10 months ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
0

I am not so sure about this.

ADD REPLYlink 10 months ago
Jean-Karim Heriche
19k
Entering edit mode
0

I'm hoping you're right.

ADD REPLYlink 10 months ago
Emily_Ensembl
18k
17
Entering edit mode

I don't believe there's anything confidential here so here's what Iain Mattaj, EMBL Director, told us back in February

The United Kingdom (UK) will hold a referendum on its continued membership of the European Union (EU) on 23 June. In light of questions that have come to my attention about the potential impact the results of this referendum could have on EMBL I think it is worth outlining the facts.

A UK vote to leave the EU would have no direct consequences for the UK’s membership of EMBL. Consequently there would be no direct impact on EMBL as a whole or on EMBL-EBI in particular.

EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation and is not formally linked to the European Union; a country’s membership of EMBL is independent of its membership of the EU. EMBL was established by international treaty between its 21 member states, not all of which are members of the EU. For example, Israel and Switzerland, both founding members of EMBL, are not part of the EU. Conversely, some EU members are currently not EMBL member states.

EMBL recruits globally to find the brightest minds. All member state and non-member state citizens can work for EMBL across its sites and this would not change in the case that the UK should decide to leave the EU, thanks to the host-site agreements in place with all of EMBL’s host countries.

The UK has been a member of EMBL since its foundation in 1974. Over the years EMBL has maintained an extremely fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship with the UK, its political representatives and its scientific community. In the past few years this has become particularly apparent through the major investments the UK government and charities such as the Wellcome Trust have made to support and advance EMBL-EBI and the development of its campus. There are no indications at all that the UK is considering to terminate its membership in EMBL or change anything regarding its commitment as the host country of EMBL-EBI.

Let me also take the opportunity to mention that EMBL has worked closely together with the EU for many years in a variety of ways to promote the life sciences in Europe. Both organisations are committed to the promotion of international scientific cooperation and I confidently expect that our relationship will remain both close and constructive in the future.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago Emily_Ensembl 18k
Entering edit mode
2

Emily, thank you for the clarification, it relieves my concerns slightly, however does this also hold for Britain's involvement in EU funded projects like Elixir. It is hard to determine what is happening, but I noticed that Britain is not an Elixir node but EMBL-EBI is (edit:) the hub, so the contracts might survive a potential Brexit too. Am I right?

Also, this is the official position of the institute, but I believe this statement must contain an amount of diplomacy and it appears more like a tranquilizer to me.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
1

Obviously it's very diplomatic. I just thought people would appreciate seeing that.

For stronger opinions from one of our joint directors, here's Ewan Birney's twitter feed. I'd assumed he'd have a blog post on it too, but can't see one – I'll tweet him a request. Update: he's going to write one.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Emily_Ensembl
18k
Entering edit mode
0

I don't really understand how Elixir works, I'm afraid. I do know that we're not a node, we're the hub!

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Emily_Ensembl
18k
Entering edit mode
1

I just checked up on this: https://www.elixir-europe.org/about/elixir-hub and https://www.elixir-europe.org/about/elixir-embl-ebi So according to this the Elixir hub is the hub is the hub... ;) and EMBL-EBI is a node, the building however, is:

The building that houses the ELIXIR Hub was funded by the UK government through its commitment as host country. Based alongside EMBL-EBI on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge, the new building officially opened in autumn 2013.

Hope we would never have to explain this to Nigel Farage ;)

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
2

ELIXIR is a distributed infrastructure that aims to coordinate, integrate and sustain bioinformatics services across Europe. It does this by connecting national bioinformatics infrastructures (such as SIB, DTL, IFB, ELIXIR UK etc) with the major archives at the EBI. The bioinformatics services are run by ELIXIR Nodes, the largest in size being EBI, and the role of the ELIXIR Hub is to support the coordination of this.

The ELIXIR Hub is based on the Genome Campus, alongside EMBL-EBI, and it has the same legal entity as EMBL (though separate membership and ring-fenced budgets). The ELIXIR Hub is not a part of the EU; it is legally the same entity as EMBL. Although ELIXIR does take part in EU-funded projects, it does so as an international treaty organisation like EMBL, so the outcome of a referendum should have no bearing on this.

The UK has also established an ELIXIR UK Node, which originally focussed on providing training services, but is now expanding to include additional resources for interoperability, protein structures, agri-sciences and health, etc. The ELIXIR UK Node is not part of EMBL but is made up of a network of UK unis and academic institutes including Oxford, Manchester, TGAC, etc.

Hope this helps

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
asmith
• 20
12
Entering edit mode

A victory of emotion and ressentiment over reason, a dark day for Europe and Britain, a dark day for European Science in general. As acceptable as the democratic decision to commit suicide. EBI should relocate. Blacking out now.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.6 years ago Michael Dondrup 46k
Entering edit mode
2

A monumentally stupid day. Nothing else to say.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
george.ry
♦ 1.1k
6
Entering edit mode

The main effects I can see are on staff choices about working here or not and on grants. This applies not just to us at the EBI, but every scientific institute in the UK who employ large numbers of international scientists.

We're damned good at getting visas for people, so even if immigration is restricted I can see that we would not have any trouble bringing people into the country, even with an Australia-style points system as is being proposed by the Leave campaign (our employees would get millions of points so that would be no worry). Perhaps we might have to wait a few weeks for visas to come through, but that would really have no impact.

However, I can see that people might question whether they would want to work here if we're outside the EU. Certainly, non-British colleagues have expressed discomfort at some of the rhetoric from the Leave campaign regarding immigration – some of it is pretty nasty and a vote Leave would prove that was the majority opinion.

There are also massive concerns about scientific grants. A lot of projects in the EBI and other institutes have EU-specific grants, which we would lose. I don't believe that we would anywhere near make up the shortfall from the piddling amount of money we would save by not paying into the EU.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago Emily_Ensembl 18k
Entering edit mode
1

I've just spoken to our PR people and I've been pointed to some slight errors I have made here, so just to clear those up:

  1. We're not "damned good at getting visas", EMBL have a treaty that means the UK government have to give us visas for anyone we employ, and quickly. Even though we know we can get them every time, it does mean more work for our HR team to have to apply. Obviously, this is not the case for other UK research institutes, they would have to apply for visas the normal way. I imagine a points-based system would still work in their favour, but this could, for them, result in longer delays and greater expense.

  2. Our position in EMBL means that we still qualify for EU grants as an intergovernmental organisation (like the UN). Not sure how this works but apparently it does. Again, not the case for other UK research institutes, who would lose access to those grants.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Emily_Ensembl
18k
6
Entering edit mode

Just to confuse everybody outside our mad little islands. Great Britain ≠ UK. I know the campaign is called "Brexit" but it is actually a vote about the United Kingdom in the EU, not Great Britain. Video here.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago Emily_Ensembl 18k
Entering edit mode
2

Thank you for this video, very entertaining, indeed, and educational (if played at 0.5 speed). Why again do some people think the EU is very complex? :D

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
1

Cgp Grey does a wonderful job on his videos.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
RamRS
21k
Entering edit mode
0

And ELIXIR does have a UK Node.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
themarytodd
• 0
5
Entering edit mode

As already mentioned, I believe the main effect will be on funding but mostly for UK labs and institutions. My feeling is that current EU contracts will be allowed to expire but participation in new projects from UK organizations would be either as "third country participant" (in EU speak) or by signing a special agreement to participate in H2020 (like Switzerland). EMBL, as an intergovernmental organization would not be affected because it signs its own agreements with the European Commission (e.g. here).

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago Jean-Karim Heriche 19k
3
Entering edit mode

The EBI itself is part of the EMBL with the headquarter in Germany, so nothing would change directly - this is also the reason why the EBI would NOT lose EU specific grants as I do understand from the posted email. However, I do believe there would be strong indirect consequences - namely EU funded project that involves other UK based companies/universities because they would not be part of EU funded projects no more. Therefore I think the email above is to a certain extend naive - or as Michael described it: " this statement contain an amount of diplomacy and it appears more like a tranquillizer to me." I agree with that.

Further I might add, of course nobody knows exactly what the consequences of a 'Brexit' would be, in general for the UK - and so also not for research. While the EBI is a little bit protected by it's special status, I am sure it would have sever consequences for many (all?) other research companies/universities/institutes.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago LLTommy ♦ 1.2k
1
Entering edit mode

The latest statement on the EMBL-EBI and the UK referendum by both Ewan Birney and Rolf Apweiler, directors of EMBL-EBI.

ADD COMMENTlink 3.7 years ago Denise - Open Targets ♦ 5.0k
Entering edit mode
0

I have read the statement, it doesn't really convince me unfortunately. I fear this is wishful thinking from the directors. They seem to suggest that EBI can exist in its isolated bubble, like Vatican state inside Italy. I don't think that is going to happen, the best minds they want to recruit will still have to live in that country, side by side with its people, and use services provided by the UK. The disgusting xenophobic and irrational undertones of the campaign will make it less likely that the best minds will want to come, even if there are some special treaties that should guarantee to get visa etc. Also, already one deeply irrational decision has been taken, what guarantees that a new populist right-wing government won't sack these as it sees fit?

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
1

There are different issues going on here. Firstly, we all wonder(ed) what the impact of the Brexit will (would) be on EBI continuing to be part of EMBL. The UK’s decision to leave the EU has no direct consequences for the UK’s membership of EMBL, at least in the near future. Whether or not, the best minds would like to work/live in the UK, that's another matter. The results of the referendum revealed interesting geographic trends in the UK (EU referendum: The result in maps and charts). City of London, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, some of the great places where top quality science's been carried out in this (still) United Kingdom, have all chosen to remain (ranging from 75.3% to 70.3%). But even if a non-UK scientist/researcher came to work in a region with pro-leave majority, I'd like to believe (and hope) that not all brexiteers are xenophobic.

ADD REPLYlink 3.6 years ago
Denise - Open Targets
♦ 5.0k
Entering edit mode
0

After some days have past, it is no longer clear if the brexit even will come, after all the protagonists of the Brexit abandoned ship, and there seems to be no good plan yet on how to proceed. The state of uncertainty is obviously not helping. I though believe that scientists should take a stronger stand in the political debate to promote internationalism and condemn xenophobism, even if some might feel uncomfortable in this role. To simply have good hope that researchers will not be affected is not good enough (from a moral standpoint) in certain regions of England, there have been reports of herassement of EU migrants as a follow up already ("We voted you out"). This should also be applied to xenophobic movements elesewhere, like Pegida in Dresden.

ADD REPLYlink 3.6 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
0

In broad terms, people won't change overnight, Michael. The team you're working with will still see you as the valuable player that you are, and isolationists will still be xenophobic. I do not know what limitations the visas will place on employees in the UK - those might enforce a bunch of conditions making life difficult for people, but I don't see UK folks becoming xenophobic just because a referendum happened yesterday.

The visa regulations might reduce the influx of workers, though. I am curious about the terms of these visas, and how they compare to the ones used in the US.

ADD REPLYlink 3.7 years ago
RamRS
21k
Entering edit mode
0

Unfortunately, it seems that idiots are not necessarily changing but have been encouraged by the campaign, believing they somehow are the majority #PostRefRacism

ADD REPLYlink 3.6 years ago
Michael Dondrup
46k
Entering edit mode
0

It is sad when scientists speak of closing borders and isolating themselves - we should be the unifying force and the rational mind that sees clearly through the dust. Sadly, we are all human.

ADD REPLYlink 3.6 years ago
RamRS
21k

Login before adding your answer.

Similar Posts
Loading Similar Posts
Powered by the version 2.0