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29/08/2016

Juncker still mulling scientific advice role after Glover’s position axed

Science & Policymaking

Juncker still mulling scientific advice role after Glover’s position axed

Anne Glover, EU Chief Scientific Advisor (flickr/Creative Commons)

The function of Chief Scientific Adviser to the European Commission “has ceased to exist”, Anne Glover confirmed yesterday (13 November) but that does not mean the position will not be re-established by the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EurActiv understands.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has not yet decided whether to replace the role of former chief scientific adviser (CSA) Anne Glover when she leaves the EU executive next year.

“President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice,” said Commission spokesman Mina Andreeva.

“He has not yet decided how to institutionalise this independent scientific advice,” she told EurActiv.

The mandate of the scientific adviser came to an end automatically with the expiry of the Barroso II Commission on 31 October, but the office of the CSA told EurActiv last week that it was still waiting to hear whether its services would be extended by the incoming Commission.

“The European Commission confirmed to me yesterday (12 November) that, all decisions on the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) were repealed and so the function of Chief Scientific Adviser has ceased to exist,” Glover told the president of the UK’s Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, in an email published by The Guardian.

“It is not up to me to comment on this decision, but I would like to express that I am proud of what this office has achieved in less than three years with very few resources,” Glover added.

Although Glover’s role no longer exists, she will continue to work at the Commission until the end of January offering transitional advice, a Commission spokesman confirmed.

Controversial position

The role of the scientific adviser was created by then Commission President José Manuel Barroso in 2012 to provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation requested by him, usually in relation to major policy proposals being submitted to the EU executive.

The job was created in response to repeated calls to strengthen scientific advice and evidence-based policy in Europe.

The question of whether Juncker should re-appoint Glover – or someone else – to her post has stirred controversy in the Brussels bubble of EU policy specialists over the past year.

BusinessEurope, the EU employers’ association, has shown clear support for maintaining the position. In a letter sent in May to José Manuel Barroso, it praised the “positive steps” that were taken under the outgoing Commission to encourage the use of “high quality science whenever officials develop policy, laws and rules”.

But Glover’s role at the Commission drew criticism from transparency campaigners, who called on Juncker to scrap the position.

“The post of Chief Scientific Adviser is fundamentally problematic as it concentrates too much influence in one person, and undermines in-depth scientific research and assessments carried out by or for the Commission directorates in the course of policy elaboration,” wrote the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) in a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker.

“We hope that you as the incoming Commission President will decide not to nominate a chief scientific adviser and that instead the Commission will take its advice from a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources, with a focus on the public interest,” CEO said.

In scientific circles however, Glover has attracted more praise than criticism, and 40 scientific institutions sent a letter supporting her role to Juncker over the summer.

As previously reported by EurActiv, Glover has argued for an “evidence centre” to be established at the European Commission that would disconnect the EU’s evidence gathering processes from the “political imperative” that drives policy proposals.

>> Read: EU twisting facts to fit political agenda, chief scientist says

Conservative MEPs claim position will be maintained

Conservative MEPs reacted angrily to  the news of Glover’s departure, claiming that Juncker had assured them that the post would be preserved in his new administration.

“I am deeply disappointed by this news. I wait to hear the details but on the face of it this looks like a complete volte face by Mr Juncker. I believe that in a leaner, less bureaucratic, growth-focused Europe, the role of science should be augmented not diminished,” said Conservative environment spokesman Julie Girling.

Girling said that Juncker assured a meeting of European Conservatives and Reformists Group MEPs that the post would remain when he was canvassing support from them earlier in the year. She said she had put the question to him directly herself.

“We need more scientific input, not less. That’s how we keep flaky legislation off the statute books. I fear Mr Juncker has caved in to the Green lobby,” she added.

She added that she would press Juncker “to explain why he has reneged on his commitment and to detail what he intends to do next”.

Background

Professor Anne Glover was appointed in December 2011 as the chief scientific advisor to José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President.

A trained biologist who holds a chair in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen, she previously served a as chief scientific advisor for Scotland (2006-2011).

Under Glover’s watch, the Commission set up a special advisory group to provide the EU executive with independent information and advice on an array of scientific and technology issues.