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Strengthening CERN and particle physics in a changing global environment


Charlotte Lindberg Warakaulle is the Director for International Relations.

As we welcome Romania as our 22nd Member State in late July, now is a good time to reflect on the geographical enlargement process

As we welcome Romania as our 22nd Member State in late July, now is a good time to reflect on the geographical enlargement process that was initiated in 2010.

Let me begin by setting the context. CERN operates in an increasingly complex and globalised world. Political and economic developments in the European neighbourhood and well beyond can have an impact on our work – directly or indirectly, in the short term or in a much longer perspective. We need to anticipate that change as far as we can, while also being agile enough to meet the challenges that we do not expect.

The UK’s EU referendum on 23 June is a case in point. Because CERN is an organisation founded to facilitate cooperation across borders, Brexit is an uncomfortable truth to many of us. It is, nevertheless, the outcome of the political processes of one of our founding Member States, and is something we must respect. Whatever direction the UK now takes, we will be working with the country’s particle physics community to ensure that they, and we, continue to reap the benefits of the UK’s involvement with CERN.

Brexit just goes to show that as an organisation focused on science, not politics, we nevertheless have to adapt to developments in the realms of politics and economics. Enlargement is one of the tools that allows us to do just that. And it is designed to do so in a balanced, measured and thoughtful way, consistently guided by one overarching objective: strengthening our discipline and the scientific work of CERN in the long term.

With Romania coming on board, only two new Member States have joined since 2010. Three countries have become Associate Members in the same period. And there’s a very good reason for that slow pace. We want to be sure that when a new country joins the CERN family, membership brings something positive to both parties. The task forces that visit applicant countries are thorough. Their task is to ensure that when a country joins CERN, its science, scientists and industry are all ready to reap the full benefits of either Associate or full Membership. Moreover, enlargement is an opportunity for CERN to nurture developing particle physics communities around the world. This is good for them, good for us, good for particle physics and good for fundamental research generally.

Enlargement is an acknowledgement of the global reality of particle physics. There are over 100 nationalities represented among our user community today. It makes sense for more countries whose scientists play an important role here to have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Membership or Associate Membership as well.

In short, enlargement is part of a process that recognises CERN’s inherently global nature, encourages emerging physics communities and allows us to thrive in an ever-changing world. It is targeted to benefit all players in particle physics, is conducted in a gradual manner, and will not change the way we work. We remain a global laboratory with a European heart.

The world is in flux, and enlargement helps us to play our part in shaping developments, rather than allowing ourselves to be swept along by the winds of change. The enlargement process reacts to new developments in our world, and it has given us new tools to react with. But it builds on a long and proud tradition of inclusiveness and openness, key principles that have for over 60 years been at the heart of our scientific work.