Robert-Jan Smits

Robert-Jan Smits will receive the 2016 Academy Medal. The Academy Medal is awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in the Netherlands to the advancement of science in the broadest sense of the word. Robert-Jan Smits is Director-General for Research and Innovation – European Commission.

Robert-Jan Smits is receiving the Academy Medal in recognition of his unflagging efforts on behalf of research and innovation in the European Union. Those efforts are visible in the design of the Union’s research and innovation policy and the heights to which that policy aspires. As the right arm of successive European Commissioners for Research, Innovation and Science, Smits has played a leading role for almost three decades in the development and implementation of Horizon 2020, the European Research Council, the European Research Area (ERA), and the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures.

His vision, perseverance and the results achieved under his leadership have made Robert-Jan Smits an obvious choice as Academy Medal laureate. In the words of jury chairperson Ben Feringa: ‘Robert-Jan Smits has spent almost his entire career working in his own unique way to promote European research. He functions as a traffic manager at the junction of four roads: Dutch research, European research, Dutch politics, and European politics.’

About the laureate

Robert-Jan Smits (born in 1958) studied at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, the Institut Universitaire d’Hautes Études Internationales in Switzerland, and the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in the United States. After completing his studies, he spent several years working for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. In 1989, he left for Brussels to work for the European Commission. Since 2010, he has been the Director-General of Research and Innovation for the European Commission. Smits was one of the initiators of Horizon 2020, the largest research programme in the world (with a budget of 80 billion euros between 2014 and 2020). 

In 2016, Smits was the very first recipient of a new lifetime achievement award by EuroScience, the non-profit grassroots association of researchers in Europe. In his various roles within the European Union, Smits has been vital to the positioning of European research. He is a highly influential voice in the political debate about science. Robert-Jan Smits is always prepared to share his insightful vision of science – in Europe and the Netherlands – with others.