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Do EU institutions have access to the latest scientific advice and evidence?

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) provides analysis and scientific evidence on specific issues, along similar lines to the UK Parliament’s House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries.

In the development of policy proposals and the legislative process, EU institutions and agencies draw on evidence and advice. This is a complex and diverse picture and there are a number of ways that they do this, including through expert advisory groups and various consultative processes. However, at the current time, there is no cross-institutional mechanism for developing and delivering scientific evidence and advice throughout the policymaking process; it varies according to EU institution or agency. National governments also draw on their domestic arrangements for seeking scientific advice. 

The European Commission

The European Commission has an in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which runs seven scientific institutes across the EU and responds to requests from other Directorate Generals for scientific analysis. 

For the period 2012 – 2014, the President of the European Commission appointed a Chief Scientific Adviser supported by a relatively small team.

Following a review of scientific advice mechanisms in 2015, the European Commission announced the creation of a Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) in May 2015. This SAM consists of three new elements:

  • A high level group of seven scientific advisers to provide high quality scientific advice to the Commission on specific pieces of policy or legislation where scientific advice is particularly necessary. 
  • A stronger relationship with the academies’ networks: Academia Europaea, All European Academies (ALLEA), European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), Euro-CASE and Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM).
  • A dedicated secretariat in DG Research.

There are over 1000 expert advisory groups which advise the European Commission. They provide the Commission with advice and expertise in the drafting of policy proposals including legislation, preparing delegated acts, and implementing existing EU legislation, programmes and policies. This can include, but is not limited to providing scientific input. Experts in relevant fields are selected by the European Commission and can be invited to apply through public calls for advisors. Commission expert groups can be permanent or temporary. 

Many Directorates General (DGs) have Advisory Committees focused on providing scientific advice. For example, in DG Health and Food Safety, the Commission can draw on four scientific committees: the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks and the Inter-Committee Coordination Group. These committees provide scientific opinions in response to specific requests, and can also consult with other scientists and experts. 

The European Commission also employs external consultants to undertake project work, which can include scientific analysis. 

The European Parliament

The European Parliament has its own scientific advisory bodies, but they are structured differently to those in the European Commission. The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) provides analysis and scientific evidence on specific issues, along similar lines to the UK Parliament’s House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries. MEPs can use the services of STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) which carries out foresight projects, and acts both proactively and reactively to requests from MEPs. 

There are many less formal mechanisms through which MEPs may access scientific information including through contact with their constituents and campaign groups. 

Council of the European Union (Council)

Given that the Council is made up of representatives from EU Member States, Ministers attending draw on their own national science advice mechanisms, rather than use a collective mechanism. These systems will vary across Member States. 

Within the Council, the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union (Coreper) brings together senior officials who prepare meetings of ministers drawing on the prior work of some 150 working groups and committees. These can be standing groups or established by Coreper to deal with a specific issue. The Working Party on Research considers research and innovation issues and legislation before these are discussed at Competitiveness Council meetings (meetings of national ministers with relevant portfolios and relevant Commissioners); it does not provide scientific advice per se.

Scientists, like all EU citizens, can engage with the European Institutions outside the formal scientific advice mechanisms.

EU Agencies

EU agencies also seek scientific advice and expertise, and can provide it when relevant to their area of operation.

For example, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is based in London and its purpose is to evaluate and oversee the use of medicines across Europe with the intention of protecting and promoting public and animal health. It also provides scientific evaluation of applications to market medicinal products in Europe. Member States or the Commission can request a scientific opinion on medicine from the EMA. Another EU agency relevant to research is the European Food Safety Authority, based in Italy, which provides scientific opinions on a number of EU policy areas, including GMOs. 

Many scientists input through these established EU and national mechanisms. In addition, scientists, like all EU citizens, can engage with the European institutions outside the formal scientific advice mechanisms outlined above. They can contact EU officials and Members of the European Parliament on their own initiative. 
It is important to recognise that providing scientific evidence and advice does not guarantee that it will be taken into account in the development of policies. Other factors may play a legitimate role in shaping policy, including social norms, tradition and moral values.