In Europe as elsewhere, politicians are increasingly convinced that the results of scientific research must be freely accessible to everyone, said State Secretary of Education, Sander Dekker. ‘Two of three years ago, we were trendsetters.’

This week, European politicians tasked with research and innovation met in Amsterdam, on which occasion, State Secretary Dekker once again stood up for open access in science, i.e. the principle that the results of scientific research must be freely accessible to everyone.

Are you still having to convince your colleagues that open access is a good thing?

“No, not really, by this stage. Two or three years ago, the Netherlands and Great Britain were trendsetters in this debate, but now we’re getting to the point where policy makers and universities are increasingly convinced that this is the way to go. The main question left to answer is, how do we go about it? Over the next five months, while the Netherlands holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, we will seek to formulate realistic ambitions which will help universities negotiate with major publishers.”

So you’re trying to steer the market in the right direction?

“That’s one way to put it, but it helps that the universities have now realised how important this is. We are now having discussions with publishers at the executive level. It’s no longer Directors of Library Services who are negotiating the terms of journal subscriptions, but rather university chancellors. Dutch universities have struck a great deal with Springer publishers, and Elsevier, too, is now taking steps towards open access, for the first time ever. If and when European universities start co-operating, they will get even more done. LERU, the League of European Research Universities, gave us a petition signed by about ten thousand eminent researchers saying, “Do something about this.” To me, that is a sign our efforts are being widely supported.”

What are you hoping to achieve within Europe?

“That open access will play a more significant role. Last Tuesday night, Bill Gates gave a speech on open access, at our invitation. His Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funds research into infectious diseases, among other things, requires that scientists – brilliant scientists from all over the world – be able to use the results of this research. Especially in Africa. The terms and conditions for EU funding now state that scientists must put the results of their studies at the public’s disposal “as soon as possible”, but this wording leaves some room for long embargo periods [during which, articles can only be read for a fee, red.]. The EU’s provisions are less far-reaching than Dutch research funder NWO’s, which now stipulate that the outcomes of NWO- funded studies must be published in an open-access journal at once.”

So if your colleagues are all convinced open access is a good thing, what’s the problem? Why are venerable journals such as Nature and Science still so influential?

“It’s something to do with young scientists’ careers. After all, how are their publications judged? If young scientists are given the opportunity to publish in Nature or Science, who are we to rob them of such opportunities? Of course they want to be published by such journals. I understand that completely. It’s very tempting.”

Is it an advantage that the Netherlands currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU?

“Holding the presidency has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s giving us the opportunity to put the subject on the agenda. In April, we will host a large conference on open science. However, as the president of the Council, we are supposed to be honest brokers. At meetings like this, my job is to ensure that we arrive at solid “conclusions”. I can’t spend all day defending Dutch positions. But one thing is for sure – open access is a hit, with my colleagues in other countries as well as in the Netherlands.”