A Win for Science-Based Policy Making

EU Commission terminates Chief Scientific Advisor position after pressure from CIEL and partners

By David Azoulay and Lainey Sidell

Science is a critical tool for policy making, in particular on issues relating to human health and the environment. In some cases, science can give very definite answers; in others, there is uncertainty. Recognizing the wider social questions and context when taking decisions, policymakers need to have access to clear, balanced, and authoritative views on the state of science.

This is why in August, CIEL, with 27 organizations, wrote a letter to EU Commission President Juncker advising that he abolish the position of Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the Commission. The letter was meant to dispute the necessity and appropriateness of the position, particularly related to how science is interpreted for the Commission and the way in which it informs scientific policy decisions in the EU. The letter also aimed to open debate on how to put science at the heart of European politics.

The CSA position was especially troubling because it lacked transparency (advice was given secretly and even the subject on which advice was given was kept secret). It also vested the power to make all EU scientific policy advice in one person, bypassing joint expertise of science committees and reducing necessary complexity and uncertainty in science advice. CIEL and our partners’ concerns also stemmed from wishing to uphold the integrity and independence of the Commission and for greater transparency.

At a time when scientific opinion is central to EU policy making and legislative processes, the idea of a single person secretly advising the Commission on all science-related matters, from climate change, to toxic chemicals, GMOs, fracking and fisheries, is not only unscientific, it also directly contradcits the democratic process enshrined by the European Union. It is critical that EU lawmakers have access to the best representation of wide-ranging and transparent scientific advice to carry out their work; asking one single person to secretly determine what science ‘is’ on a subject is a grave mistake.

So it is was a great satisfaction to hear from the newly appointed president of the European Commission that he would scrap the position of CSA, in a response to our letter sent on November 12th. Anne Glover, a former professor at University of Aberdeen, held the post since 2012 and will leave the Commission at the end of January.

The scrapping of this position is however only the beginning of this discussion, and on November 18th, CIEL and partnerspublished a set of principles for the transparency, excellence and independence in scientific advice to the European Commission. We will be discussing these principles with President’s Juncker’s cabinet in early January and will continue to defend the idea of strong science-based regulation to safeguard human health and the environment.

Originally posted on December 26, 2014.