Glover: EU chief scientist should stay in the shadows

  
Anne Glover at the 20th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, 18-22 June 2012 [Photo: European Biomass Conference and Exhibition / Flickr]
Anne Glover at the 20th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, 18-22 June 2012 [Photo: European Biomass Conference and Exhibition / Flickr]

Anne Glover, the EU’s Chief Scientific Advisor, has said that her opinions to the European Commission should remain independent from politics and therefore “not transparent” and immune from public scrutiny. The incoming Commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, is considering to maintain her position after Barroso leaves, EurActiv understands.

Glover has made few public statements since her appointment in December 2011 as chief scientific advisor to José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission who will step down on 1 November.

In fact, the advice she has given Barroso remains confidential, although she has spoken out publicly on subjects such as climate changeGMOs and shale gas.

A former scientific advisor to Scotland (2006-2011), Glover knows her opinions may sometimes trigger heated debate because they touch upon sensitive political issues.

Keeping science away from politics

“Of course I am aware of the political implications of some of the things I say,” she recently told a pre-European election event organised by Eurochambres, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“But I try to focus everything I do on the evidence,” she said.

For Glover, keeping science away from politics is essential to her role. And this implies a necessary degree of confidentiality. Asked by EurActiv to reveal the areas on which Barroso had sought advice during her two-year mandate, she refused to answer in detail, arguing that the process was meant to be occluded.

“Why is it not transparent? Because if it is transparent, then everybody will try to defend their position. And I’m not interested in that, I’m interested in getting the best evidence possible.”

The understanding between her and Barroso always was to maintain confidentiality, she continued, “so I’m not going to tell you”.

One of the reasons for keeping confidentiality is that politicians may change their positions overnight, Glover explained, even though the scientific evidence has not budged.

Taking nuclear power as an example, "the evidence around the value of nuclear power in terms of climate change or safety stays the same," she said, "so I can’t change what I say overnight."

For Glover, confidentiality means that she can "challenge" political decisions about divisive issues like nuclear power or GMO cultivation, debates which can easily veer out of control when thrown into the public sphere.

"What I try to do is to say ‘I don’t think your evidence is supporting your conclusion’," she explained.

Impact assessments should be more transparent

Still, Glover called for more transparency around scientific evidence used in the Commission’s impact assessment studies, which mark the early stages of EU decision-making processes. Stakeholders should be able to review the evidence on which politicians base their decisions and hold them to account, she argues.

“You would be balancing the evidence base and making an analysis to determine why giving more weight to that evidence over that evidence. And that would be transparent. So every stakeholder whether a citizen, a business, a politician, a scientist – can look at the reasoning that’s behind all of that,” she said.

Glover said she wanted to stay on in her role in order to brief the incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on her plans.

“I think I will probably stay until the end of the year because a big imperative for me is to try and rethink the evidence-gathering process within the Commission. And also I want to persuade the new President that she or he needs to have a chief scientific advisor and the role needs to be properly supported.”

Foresight network

One achievement Glover said she was proud of was the establishment of “a foresight network” of Commission officials across key departments who meet to discuss advances in science and technology and their impact on society.

“For the first time, with the support of Barroso, I have a foresight network in the Commission which involves 21 of the DGs [Directorate-Generals] and 220 people across the Commission,” something she says has immense value because it “crosses silos”.

“These people sit down and talk about what is being done in science, engineering and technology, what will really be disruptive, and what the Commission should do, if anything, to ensure that the EU citizen can get the best impact from that – and that of course includes business.”

The network discusses “what 2030 is going to look like and how we as a Commission could ensure the best possible outcome for citizens, businesses and the environment.”

‘Brussels bubble’ debates Glover’s role

The question of whether the incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker should re-appoint Glover – or someone else – to her post has stirred controversy in the Brussels bubble of EU policy specialists.

Juncker's spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud, suggested there were chances that the position would be maintained.

"President-elect Juncker believes in the added value of independent scientific advice and will decide how to make use of such advice in the work of the new Commission after having taken up office," Bertaud told EurActiv in an email.

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.”

The employers’ group particularly welcomed the appointment of Anne Glover as Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to the Commission President. “We see the CSA as a key proponent in science-based decision-making,” it said, encouraging Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker to “further institutionalise the role of scientific evidence in the political process.”

“The CSA should have a formal role in the Impact Assessment Board,” BusinessEurope added, referring to the grouping of Commission directors who review draft assessments of key policy proposals. It said the EU's chief scientist should be consulted formally also during the so-called “interservice consultation” stage where policy proposals are discussed between Commission departments.

But Glover’s role at the Commission has drawn criticism from transparency campaigners, who are calling 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.

According to CEO, the role of Chief Scientific Adviser has been “unaccountable, intransparent and controversial,” noting the nature of Anne Glover’s advice to the Commission President remains unknown and confidential. 

It also cited “one-sided, partial opinions” Glover gave to the media in the debate on the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, saying her views did not reflect the scientific consensus.

“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.

Praise from the scientific community

In scientific circles however, Glover has attracted more praise than criticism.

James Wilsdon, a professor of science and democracy at Sussex University, commended her for establishing the Euroscience Open Forum, a new pan-EU network of government science advisers, launched in Copenhagen on 23 June.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Wilsdon called for an “evidence-based Union” and praised Glover for having established herself as “a thoughtful and persuasive ambassador for science and evidence within the Brussels system,” saying he hoped her role would be continued under Juncker’s leadership.

The Sussex professor called for a closer integration of the EU’s chief scientist with the Commission’s Joint Research Centre, a step he said “could move some way towards the Commission ‘evidence service’ model that Glover has argued for”. 

As reported by EurActiv earlier, 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

Timeline: 
  • 1 November: End of José Manuel Barroso's mandate as President of the European Commission
  • December: Probable end of Anne Glover's mandate
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Comments

Eurochild's picture

The idea that there can be just one individual who possesses all the scientific facts over an issue is false, since scientists themselves do not have just one position on an issue and one individual cannot be an expert on a wide range of very different subjects.

The whole way in which Glover talks about "evidence" is dangerous and disingenous, as though there is one simple set of irrefutable facts, which all come to the same conclusion and can only be interpreted in one way, and which must trump all other aspects.

Yes, let's abolish politics, ignore the citizens and rule through "scientific fact" alone!

the Englishman's picture

So Ms Glover wants to be free to advise the EU bosses who then act on that advice, or not, which could make dramatic changes to the lives of 500 million people. But she dosen't want to be questioned, or held to public account?

This woman is paid by the public and therefor is accountable to the public. If she dosen't like it she should go work somewhere else. But sadly she fits right in to the undemocratic Brussels Bubble Mafia.

Eurochild's picture

Actually, Ms Glover's problem is that she is British and hence doesn't really understand that there are various EU institutions that need to be consulted and to debate upon an issue.

Did you notice that all her backers in this article are British? That's it's the British government that is one of the main advocates for things like GMO and fracking. Seems this ignoring the people and just pushing "science" is a very British thing.

the Englishman's picture

I think the British Government is just shadowing the EU and the Brussles Bubble in ignoring the people which seems to be a very European thing. If she was German, French or from the EU golden country Luxembourg I suppose she wouldn't be a 'problem' I am not defending her in any way as I think she shouldn't be there at all. Nor should any British citizen!

Eurochild's picture

You don't understand your own government - being so full of anti-EU hate has blinded you to reality. On GMO, for example, the EU has tended not to permit the cultivation of such crops because the peoples of the EU have not wanted their governments to do so. It is the United Kingdom that has pushed and pushed for it. The new European legislation is that each country can decide for themselves if they want GMO - watch the UK go for it while most other countries resist.

You are clueless.

the Englishman's picture

I wouldn't say I am clueless. But yes I do HATE the EU, or to be precise I HATE what is has become. I am old enough to have voted for it but we were never privy to the EU master plan of the federlist adgenda, all power to Brussels. But sadly people are easly brainwashed by the EU dream..... or nightmare? But I suppose being a 'European' largly depends on what EU country your from.

Southron's picture

Agreed. I can take the argument that Scientists need to be free from political pressure, but you get that by building independent & strong institutions, not by closing doors.

Gerry's picture

Scientists do need to be free from political pressure. They are just there to give expert advise on issues, not to formulate policy. It is the Chief scientists job to convey and express what the consensus is within the scientific community on a given subject. That does not mean there is no one with a different opinion, it just indicates what the consensus is on a particular subject. It is the politicians who make the decisions that influence everybody's lives, and their decisions should be transparent, but the advise they act on can be checked separately.

evad666's picture

Anne Glover, the EU’s Chief Scientific Advisor, has said that her opinions to the European Commission should remain independent from politics and therefore “not transparent” and immune from public scrutiny.

Seems like she wants the scientific advice hidden so the politicians can continue to lie and dissemble to the public.
Money can be saved by ditching such a scientific advisor. Science must be open to scrutiny or it is the sort of science of Joseph Mengele.