Juncked: Outcry over scrapping of scientific adviser role

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Juncked: Outcry over scrapping of scientific adviser role

Related tags: European commission, European union

Scientists have condemned Juncker’s decision to axe the role of Chief Scientific Adviser in the new European Commission.

Following months of letters​ from groups led by Greenpeace, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker decided to scrap the position. Greenpeace had objected to the role, saying it was “fundamentally problematic as it concentrates too much influence in one person”.

The outgoing chief scientific adviser, Anne Glover, said in an email to the heads of European academies on Wednesday night that she would continue with the Commission until January, adding: “It is not up to me to comment on this decision.”

Anne Glover’s email to president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, and counterparts in academies across Europe

The European Commission confirmed to me yesterday that all decisions on the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) were repealed and so the function of Chief Scientific Adviser has ceased to exist. The new European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC) which “replaces” BEPA does not comprise a function “Chief Scientific Adviser”.

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 3 years with very few resources. This has only been possible thanks to your continued support throughout this time and the hard work of the fantastic members of my team who will now seek new opportunities.

I am going to leave the Commission at the end of January and look forward to meet you again in the future.

With all best wishes

Anne

The role was created just three years ago in response to calls to strengthen scientific advice to the Commission.

Dozens of academics have said they are disappointed by the decision, including chief scientific adviser at the UK’s Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Professor Ian Boyd.

 The role of chief scientific adviser has two main components. One is technocratic and I can see that there are other mechanisms that could assure the quality and relevance of this technical element of scientific advice used in government,”​ he said in a statement.

“But the other concerns the role of being a trusted adviser; the person who will privately say what they really think and not necessarily what they think people receiving the advice want to hear. This is about building personal relationships with decision-makers, including politicians and senior officials, while also being held to account by the scientific community one represents. The importance of this role for science cannot be overstated.”

A ‘broken conduit’ between science and government

Chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), Professor Guy Poppy, said the role had been a conduit between science and policy making.

“Sadly, I feel this conduit has been broken,”​ he said. “…The commission needs to act quickly and with leadership to demonstrate how such a fundamental and trusted link can be activated in the absence of a chief scientific adviser.”

He added: “Europeans need input from the best science and evidence to help address the major issues such as climate change, ageing, energy, water and food security and to ensure that risks are managed and regulated to ensure innovation and prosperity for all people today and tomorrow.”

A spokesperson for food industry trade body FoodDrinkEurope told FoodNavigator that the decision was "unfortunate".

The association said in a statement: "Science and science-based regulation play a vital role in ensuring that our industry can develop new products and improve upon existing ones, benefiting the consumer and society as a whole. Following the decision to discontinue the position of Chief Scientific Adviser, we urge the new Commission to work closely with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ensure that future regulation remains rooted in sound science and to do everything possible to facilitate innovation, research and development."

Related topics: GM food, Food labelling, Food safety, Policy

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