The new job, to be created after the new-look EU executive is sworn in, forms part of an ongoing period of major reflection inside the Commission, which is re-organising its directorates in charge of science, research and innovation.
"We need a fundamental review of the way European institutions access and use scientific advice," said President Barroso earlier this month, announcing his intention to "set up a chief scientific adviser" to the next Commission.
The adviser would have the power "to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery," Barroso explained, reflecting "the central importance" he attaches to research and innovation.
Barroso's announcement follows the launch in spring 2009 of an internal consultation by the Commission Secretariat-General on how to make better use of the EU executive's scattered scientific advice and streamline it with work on innovation policy.
Asked by EurActiv, the Secretariat-General refused to comment on the substance of the consultation and referred to it as "purely internal preparatory work" based on Barroso's political guidelines.
It said the process was still unclear for now, as a precise timetable depends on the "institutional setting" and the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland.
However, according to the Secretariat, work is currently being carried out in view of the spring summit of 2010.
Commission proposals for a new 'Innovation Act' are also expected by next spring.
Role still to be determined
Speaking to EurActiv, a Commission official familiar with the matter said that the size, role, mandate and level of operation of the EU's new chief scientific advisor still needed to be determined. The position could involve a single person, a group of people or a restructuring of existing Commission's directorates-general and commissioners, the source said.
Underpinning this major reflection period are "the consciousness of upcoming major political questions that imply scientific knowledge" and a willingness to take better account of scientific facts in decision-making, the official explained, listing climate change, renewable energies and pandemics as an example.
Politics to have final say
But while the idea behind the EU chief scientific advisor is to explain the scientific facts on which decisions are taken, the final choice will always be political, the official acknowledged.
In addition, over 90% of Europe's public R&D spending is decided at national level. So, whatever the EU scientific advice may be, the Commission can only provide a small incentive for companies to fund specific research areas.
In fact the Commission's real power lies in ensuring that new scientific and technological applications reach the market by removing barriers to the free movement of goods within the EU.
Following in Obama's footsteps
Inspiration for Barroso to propose a scientific advisor may have come from the United States.
In his inaugural address in January 2009, US President Barack Obama pledged to "restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders" to improve quality of health care and use "the sun and the winds and the soil" to fuel cars and run factories.
In April, Obama named the members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The group will advise the president and vice-president and "formulate policy in the areas where understanding of science, technology and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people".
Obama's science team is of extremely high calibre and the head of the team, John Holdren, a respected professor of environmental policy at Harvard, is based in the president's executive office itself.