When science meets politics: the EU’s impact assessment review

[Photo: Shutterstock]
[Photo: Shutterstock]

The European Commission is reviewing its impact assessment guidelines amid accusations that science is becoming increasingly politicised and scientists manipulated by policymakers and powerful interest groups.

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Since the turn of the century, the European Union has striven to improve its decision-making by requesting a detailed impact analysis before taking new major policy initiatives.

Impact assessments (IAs) are now routinely conducted to predict the likely consequence of EU legislation on citizens and the wider economy, in a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

The European Commission is currently reviewing the guidelines on how it carries out IAs and has committed to publish new ones by the end of 2014.

The debate may sound technical but could have far-reaching consequences: an IA may lead the Commission to make substantial amendments to a legislative proposal, scale it down or even drop it altogether. Products and technologies may be approved or rejected as a result, leading to new growth opportunities or job losses depending on the outcome.

And some questions can easily turn explosive when science is thrown into the mix – on topics such as climate change, renewable energies, GMO authorisation, shale gas or the regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

On each of these, the Commission seeks advice from the scientific community to determine what form of regulation is needed, if any, applying the precautionary principle.

It is therefore no surprise that IAs have attracted attention and sometimes, criticism.

Some see them as just another layer of bureaucracy and a further impediment to faster and leaner law-making. Others have been suspicious of the IA process, saying the “evidence” presented there is prone to political manipulations and influence from a wide variety of interest groups, including powerful business lobbies.

Even the scientists feel they are being manipulated by politicians seeking to push specific policy initiatives.

A big challenge for the incoming European Commission will be to disconnect its evidence gathering processes from the “political imperative” that’s driving policy proposals, said Anne Glover, the EU’s chief scientific advisor.



lighthouse's picture

About time...
EU policy is a farce, not just in the questionable definition of allowable fruit and vegetables,
but in energy efficiency regulations (buildings, cars, washing machines, light bulbs etc)
Light bulb regulations are a particular travesty, a ban on simple bright cheap but unprofitable bulbs by the major manufacturers....
Susanne Hammarström of Sweden was head of the Brussels based PR agency Diplomat-PR engaged in the lobbying on behalf of the light bulb manufacturers. Translated from the largest Swedish business paper, Dagens Industri:
"The ban would never have happened, without the large and extensive lobby campaign, in all member countries, as well as towards The European Commission and the media", Susanne Hammarström says.
She believes that a voluntary switchover to energy saving lamps would have been the preferred policy, without the systematic lobbying work.

Using official European Commission VITO data, this criticism of the EU light bulb ban comes from the Cambridge University Network Scientific Alliance section, regularly consulted and normally supportive of government energy saving policies
"The total reduction in EU energy use would be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%,
This figure is almost certainly an overestimate,
particularly as the inefficiency of conventional bulbs generates heat which supplements other forms of heating in winter.
Which begs the question: is it really worth it?
Politicians are forcing a change to a particular technology which is fine for some applications but not universally liked, and which has disadvantages.
The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile domestic use of energy...
...This is gesture politics."

evad666's picture

Totally agree with the above when its cold and dark heat from bulbs contributed to domestic heating.