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Where next for scientific advice in Europe?

28 April 2015

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On 27 April the report Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe was launched at a high-level summit in Brussels. The event brought together some of the principal actors in debates on science advice in Europe to discuss what should happen next. The launch event was jointly hosted by the Lisbon Council and the European Commission.

By James Hynard, CSaP Policy Researcher

Science advice has been a prominent issue in the European Commission over recent months. Criticism from the science community followed the decision by President Juncker not to renew the post of chief scientific adviser. In January 2015, President Juncker asked his Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, to present options for independent scientific advice to the Commission before the summer.

"We see the topic of independent scientific advice as an organizational challenge, not an existential problem. There was never any doubt on the need for independent scientific advice." - António Vicente

While options remain in flux, a new book on Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe contains essays by several prominent voices in these debates. Speaking at the launch of the book in Brussels on 27 April, António Vicente, head of Commissioner Moedas’ Cabinet, admitted that the scientific community’s reaction to the decision not to renew the CSA “took us by surprise. It was seen by some as a symbolic downgrading of science. But to pretend that one person was single-handedly ensuring the role of science in Europe was preposterous.” The Commission is fully committed to independent scientific advice, and the challenge is now to implement it successfully.

"The art of the possible is paramount" - Robert Madelin

On the first panel Ulrike Felt, Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna, joined Robert Madelin, director-general of DG Connect, Vladimir Sucha, director-general of the Joint Research Centre, and Professor Ian Chubb, Australia's Chief Scientist. They discussed the importance of trust and informal advice between advisers and policymakers, the incorporation of social sciences and adaptive expertise, the balance of evidence and values, and knowledge management. The recurring theme was the understanding of what is and isn't possible for evidence-based policy-making, whether in the difficulty in synchronising research and policy cycles or comprehending the limits of evidence.

"Goals need to be politically substantial and scientifically challenging" - Wolfgang Rohe

The second panel consisted of Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of Europabio, Wolfgang Rohe, Executive Director at Stiftung Mercator, and Lieve Van Woensel, Head of the Scientific Foresight Service at the European Parliament. Nathalie emphasised the importance of scientific advice as a basis for a predictable, proportional and workable policy environment in which businesses can flourish.

Wolfgang discussed the role of private foundations in the science advice ecosystem and concluded that they must avoid advocating specific types of solutions. Instead, they should promote a diversity of solutions and provide a platform for their discussion. Lieve explained the ambition of the new Foresight team to bring long-term thinking and foresight to the European Parliament, working closely with MEPs to explore future scenarios without making judgements on their desirability.

"It is important to place the debate in Brussels within the context of broader international discussion" - James Wilsdon

Both panels were followed by lively discussion with the audience which ranged from ensuring transparency in advice to the role of the media. James Wilsdon had opened the event with a reminder that science advice is a global issue on which lessons should be shared. The launch event demonstrated that there is a vocal community in Europe doing just that, driving forward the conversation on science advice and reflecting on opportunities and challenges. There is an appetite for a genuinely world-class, multi-disciplinary, open and accountable scientific advisory system in Europe. The launch event and the publication of Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe provided some perpsectives on how to turn this aspiration into reality.

Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe is available free to download here.

(Banner image from Loz Pycock via Flickr)

Dr Robert Doubleday

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor James Wilsdon

University of Sheffield, Faculty of Social Sciences

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    Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe

    The second in a two-part collection, Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europe was published in April 2015 and updated in June 2015 to take account of developments in the European Commission.