Putting Science at the Heart of European Policy

One year ago, the incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shocked the scientific world by scrapping the post of Chief Scientific Advisor. This week, the Commission made amends by launching a well-considered Scientific Advisory Mechanism (SAM) that not only puts science back at the heart of policy, but that does so in a much more structured and robust way than conferring such responsibility on a single individual. The SAM has two independent strands: an advisory group of seven scientists, and funding through the Horizon 2020 programme for national academies and learned societies to network and collaborate on policy issues. Both are backed up by a secretariat at Commission headquarters in Brussels.

When Mr Juncker scrapped the role of Chief Scientific Advisor, it was against a backdrop of sometimes-vitriolic attacks on the incumbent, Anne Glover, due to her outspoken views on GMOs. Mr Juncker’s move was seen by some as simply giving in to a powerful lobby group, but the reality was rather more subtle. The Chief Scientific Advisor post was part of a larger advisor’s bureau whose functions have been reorganized over the last year: Mr Juncker’s Commission chose to change the way the Commission receives advice on a large range of issues, not only science.

At the time Mr Juncker took office, I wrote to him, along with my fellow EIROforum Directors-General, advising him to maintain a mechanism for independent and impartial scientific advice. I pointed out in this column that scientific evidence is not an option in policy making, and suggested that some kind of body, such as the one announced this week, might offer a more structured and robust mechanism than a single advisor. I am very pleased that the Commission shares this view, all the more so since I have the privilege of being —> Read More