MEPs question axing of key science role

MEPs have queried the European commission's commitment to science-based policymaking, following the revelation that the post of chief scientific adviser (CSA) has been scrapped in the newly appointed European political strategy centre (EPSC).

By James O'Brien

19 Nov 2014

In the first week of his presidency of the commission, Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled the EPSC as a revamped version of the bureau of European policy advisers (BEPA).

An open letter, signed by five British S&D members (Clare Moody, Glenis Willmott, Theresa Griffin, Jude Kirton-Darling and Seb Dance) from parliament's industry, research and energy committee, as well as the environment, public health and food safety committee, outlined concerns regarding the absence of a dedicated scientific adviser role.

The five MEPs called "on the commission to propose a replacement consultative body for impartial and transparent scientific advice". They emphasised their concern "that any scientific advice received by the commission must be transparent, […] impartial, and […] draw on a broad base of the best available evidence".

"If the EPSC is not now to include a scientific adviser, we call on the commission to establish a transparent, independent panel for scientific advice, which will draw on a broad range of sources from the scientific community, and which will be institutionalised so it can fully contribute to the broader social and political discussions on the commission's legislative proposals."

ECR members reacted with dismay to Juncker's "u-turn", following assurances the post would be preserved in the new commission. Julie Girling, a member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee said, "I am deeply disappointed by this news. I wait to hear the details but on the face of it this looks like a complete volte face by Mr Juncker".

She outlined her view that she believed, "that in a leaner, less bureaucratic, growth focused Europe, the role of science should be augmented not diminished".

In a statement, Girling said the chief scientific advisor post was "hailed by many MEPs for providing important scientific checks and balances to wayward or overzealous environmental and food safety legislation".

Girling concluded that, "we need more scientific input, not less. That's how we keep flaky legislation off the statute books." She accused Juncker of having "caved in to the green lobby".

EFDD member of the industry, research and energy committee Roger Helmer said, "the attitude of parliamentarians to the issue of the chief scientific adviser [was] determined to a considerable extent by their opinion on the salient issue of the day".

He added, "there is concern among some that the holder of the post was a supporter of GM crops, rightly in my view, and was dropped because this opinion was an embarrassment to Jean-Claude Juncker. So on those grounds I regret her passing."

Helmer said Juncker had "decided to appease big green" and that the decision was "a coup [for] the green lobby".

The EFDD member praised the outgoing CSA Professor Anne Glover for "[holding] the line against green prejudice on GM".

He concluded by outlining his fear that scientific advisers might "tend to toe the line on, say, climate change" and said "science has become highly politicised, with publication, tenure and promotion all dependent upon their supporting the orthodoxy".

The post of CSA was the subject of severe criticism from non-governmental organisations for concentrating too much influence in one individual. The outgoing CSA was criticised by corporate Europe observatory, Greenpeace and campaigners against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in July for her "one-sided, partial opinions in the debate" on the safety of GMO foods.

The newly formed EPSC will "provide professional and targeted advice to the president" and be composed of six specialist teams in the areas of economics, social affairs, sustainable development, foreign affairs, institutions and communications.

 

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