EU chief scientist post still vacant, could be scrapped

Anne Glover's EU Commission page

Anne Glover's Commission page, archived. [European Commission]

The position of Chief Scientific Advisor could be dropped under Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission, although the EU executive made a U-turn in January and reinstated the role following pressure from Parliament.

Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner responsible for Research and Innovation, was asked by Juncker to present a report before the summer outlining how a new chief scientific advisor could work with the EU executive.

Moedas will make recommendations on the background and qualifications the right candidate should possess, an EU official told EURACTIV.

But the EU official, who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, did not exclude that the position could be scrapped if no candidate fits the job description.

“I shouldn’t speculate what the report will contain, but generally the Commission President has said that he feels strongly about having an independent scientific advisor at the Commission if we find the right way of instituting this person in the Commission,” the official said.

In 2011, Anne Glover, a Scottish biology professor, was appointed as the EU’s first Chief Scientific Advisor. Glover’s role was to provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation requested by the President of the European Commission, usually in relation to major policy proposals being submitted to the EU executive.

The role “ceased to exist” as the Barroso II Commission mandate came to an end in November last year, but was later reinstated by the new Commission following pressure from Members of the European Parliament.

>> Read: Anne Glover’s EU advisor role reinstated, MEP says

Roberto Bertollini, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) EU Representative and Chief Scientist for Europe, talked up the position last week, saying it remained of crucial importance for the Commission’s decision-making process.

Bertollini said he was worried that the Commission would be unable to take action when presented with strong evidence of health risks, for example, related to air pollution.

“I think this is where we need to say that the public needs to have confidence in authorities. When faced with strong evidence and actions are not taken or there is a slow pace, then the confidence of the public decreases. Then you open the space to this wave of scepticism and populism which can create a lot of problems,” the WHO representative said.

He mused whether the current vacancy was responsible for the delayed legislation related to health and food safety.

>> Read: Officials accuse Timmermans of delaying EU health, food safety rules

The reason why Glover had to leave the Commission remains unclear. In an interview with the BBC’s Hardtalk programme in January, Glover said Juncker refused to meet with her and discuss her role.

“They did not want to hear from me about what had worked and what had not worked in my role,” Glover said.

Asked if she ever got a meeting or an answer from the executive, she replied, “No, not at all.”

>> Read: Juncker ignored chief scientific advisor’s meeting requests

Anne Glover was appointed in December 2011 as the Chief Scientific Advisor to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

A trained biologist who holds a chair in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen, she previously served 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.

The group aims to help the Commission deal with political minefields such as genetically modified crops, biofuels and shale gas.

>> Read: New group to advise Barroso on science, technology

  • Summer 2015: Commission to publish a report on criteria for a new EU Chief Scientist.

Subscribe to our newsletters