Using scientific advice in policy developments in Europe
First name(s) and family name(s) of the author(s) : Dr Kerstin Niblaeus, Chair of Stockholm Environment Institute and former Director General of the Council of the European Union. Meeting organised by Academia Europaea
Date of the proposal : October 2010
Academies could present ideas for missing legislation to the European Parliament or national government. When a member state has the presidency, informal council meetings are organised, and they can choose any topic. These meetings could be strengthened by having European scientists present to brief the meeting.
1. Scientists need to understand the legislative process, which is in fact very similar to national processes. Texts are negotiated at various levels and make their way through several stages from attaches, who study the texts very carefully, right up to Ministers who ultimately make the decisions to adopt these texts as policy. It is important for scientists to enter the process as early as possible in order to influence decisions. The best way is to communicate with national governments.
2. EASAC could use its network to bring the same message, e.g. through its reports, to each of the member governments. In addition to sending reports, Academies should also have a meeting to discuss them with the policy-maker. If this was done by a number of countries it could be very powerful. In the case of e.g. EASAC’s work on carbon sequestration and storage, because member states had in some cases received different scientific advice (ranging from sceptical to positive), a co-ordinated approach would have strengthened the science input to the European Parliament.
3. There is a need to establish a dialogue with rapporteurs, who make proposals to their committees. National Academies could also play a role by contacting their national representatives.
4. To make science advice effective, the choice of topic and the timing are important. Policy-makers tend to be most interested when they are preparing an issue or negotiating it. Therefore, Academies need to be aware of the timetable of this process. EASAC could provide national Academies with the relevant timetables of important issues which are coming up.
5. It is also important to initiate issues. EASAC could play a role in horizon scanning. Academies could present ideas for missing legislation to the European Parliament or national government. When a member state has the presidency, informal council meetings are organised, and they can choose any topic. Sweden selected biodiversity as an issue which was presented directly to Ministers. These meetings could be strengthened by having European scientists present to brief the meeting. This approach needs a 2-year lead in to prepare for meetings which are arranged well in advance.
6. National contacts need to be high-level (ministerial) for dialogue to be effective. Officials may try to shield their ministers and may prefer to act as filters, so it can be difficult to get scientific messages heard without high-level contact. Direct contact is the best way to get them to understand the state of science with all its uncertainties. Leading scientists should be in contact with very senior European Ministers too. Again, there is a role here for EASAC: it represents the leading scientists in Europe, including some of the very best environmental scientists in the world.
7. It is important to understand policy-makers’ need to make decisions based on factors other than science. E.g. nuclear power – the debating climate 35 years ago was very different and many political parties have changing their positions on this issue, despite findings from science not having changed significantly from that time to the present.
8. There needs to be a demand from the policy side as well as pressure from science. This may mean short notice of a need for advice and it is difficult to produce a solid report in time. In such cases, Academies should make use of existing excellent work. For example, EASAC already has 2 groups which have produced good reports, which can serve to support new needs for information from science in these areas. EASAC could also facilitate a rapid round-table to discuss hot issues, where existing information is insufficient.
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