MANDATE OF THE EUROPEAN GROUP ON ETHICS IN SCIENCE AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Group of advisers to the European Commission on the ethical implications of biotechnology (GAEIB) : Mandate 1991-1997
Formation and terms of reference
- In its 1991 communication to the European Parliament and Council 'Promoting the competitive environment for industrial activities based on biotechnology within the Community' (SEC(91) 629 final), the Commission emphasized the need for ethical discussions on the development of biotechnology.
- The group's terms of reference are:
- to identify and define the ethical issues raised by biotechnology;
- to assess, from the ethical viewpoint, the impact of the Community's activities in the field of biotechnology;
- to advise the Commission, in the exercise of its powers, on the ethical aspects of biotechnology and to ensure that the general public is kept properly informed.
Responsibilities and procedures
- GAEIB is a strictly advisory body: its opinions are not binding on the European Commission.
As a general rule, the Commission requests GAEIB to give its opinion on a specific matter. However, GAEIB can also decide to investigate an issue on its own initiative, as it did on the ethical issues raised by the proposal for a Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.
- Preparing an opinion entails appointing a rapporteur from the members of the Group. The rapporteur draws up a summary report on the scientific, technical and ethical aspects and a draft opinion which is then debated by GAEIB. The final opinion is issued only after several meetings have taken place.
- GAEIB consults outside experts. Each case is referred to a scientist and a lawyer.
- GAEIB meets on average once a month, in Brussels. With a view to strengthening ties with the ethics committees in certain Member States and with other national authorities concerned by ethical discussions, an annual meeting is held away from Brussels in one of the Member States (Madrid: 1993; Bonn: 1995; Rome: 1996; The Hague: 1997).
- GAEIB's working meetings take place in camera, but experts, MEPs and other parties may be invited to share with the Group their views on the specific item under discussion.
- In addition, in order to expand dialogue with representatives of the various interest groups and parties concerned with ethical issues, the GAEIB organizes debates on a regular basis. For instance:
- on 12 April 1995, the GAEIB met representatives of industry, consumer associations, religious and philosophical groups, with MEPs in attendance, to discuss ethical issues related to the labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology;
- on 21 June 1995 and 20 February 1996, talks were held with philosophers and representatives of patients, consumer and animal welfare associations, industrialists, scientific experts, MEPs and members of the Council of Europe on the ethical issues raised by the use of transgenic animals;
- on 17 November 1995, representatives of patients associations and medical genetics practitioners gave the group their views on the draft opinion it was preparing on prenatal diagnosis.
- Relations between the GAEIB and the Directorates-General of the Commission concerned with biotechnology are coordinated by the Biotechnology Coordination Committee (BCC), chaired by the Secretary-General of the Commission.
- The GAEIB has striven to ensure that its opinions are produced in an accountable, open way. They are immediately made public at press conferences or by press releases.
An independent status
- The GAEIB's independence is the corollary of its advisory status. The group itself and each individual member enjoys total freedom of opinion.
- The group can decide its own motion to consider a matter, and it is free to determine its working methods.
- Each member of the GAEIB carries out his or her duties on a personal, non-remunerated basis. The operating costs of the group are borne directly by the European Commission.
The BCC (Biotechnology Coordination Committee) was set up by the Commission in February 1991. It consists of senior officials from the following: DG I (External Relations), DG III (Industry), DG V (Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs), DG VI (Agriculture), DG XI (Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection), DG XII (Science, Research and Development), DG XV (Internal Market and Financial Services), DG XXIV (Consumer Policy Service) and the Forward Studies Unit.
- During its first term (1992-94), the group of advisers on the ethical implications of biotechnology (GAEIB) had six members and was chaired by Mr Marcelino Oreja.
- The GAEIB's role and organization were reinforced during its second term (1994-96) in accordance with the recommendations of the European Commission's White Paper entitled, 'Growth, competitiveness, employment - The challenges and ways forward into the 21st century'. Its nine members are:
- Ms Noëlle Lenoir (France), Member of the Conseil d'État, Chair of IBC (Unesco) and Chair of the GAEIB;
- Professor Margareta Mikkelsen (Denmark), geneticist, former Head of Department of Medical Genetics, J. F. Kennedy Institute, Glostrup;
- Dr Anne McLaren (United Kingdom), biologist, former Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of The Royal Society, Principal Research Associate at the Welcome CRC Institute, Cambridge;
- Professor Luis Archer (Portugal), geneticist, President of Portugal's National Ethics Council for Life Sciences, Lisbon;
- Professor Gilbert Hottois (Belgium), philosopher, Joint Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Bioethics, Université Libre de Bruxelles, member of the National Ethics Committee;
- Professor Dietmar Mieth (Germany), philosopher and theologian, Director of the Centre for Ethics in Science, Tübingen University;
- Mr Octavi Quintana-Trias (Spain), physician, former Chairman of the Council of Europe's Steering Committee on Bioethics, official at the Spanish Ministry of Health;
- Professor Stefano Rodota (Italy), Professor of law at Rome University, President of the Authority relative to the protection of personal data, member of the Ethics Committee, Italian National Research Council, Rome;
- Professor Egbert Schroten (Netherlands), philosopher and theologian, Director of the Centre for Bioethics and Health, Utrecht University.
 Mr Oreja was appointed Commissioner with special responsibility for relations with Parliament and institutional matters on 7 January 1995.
From left to right: Dr Anne McLaren, Professor Egbert Schroten, Mrs Noëlle Lenoir, Professor Dietmar Mieth, Professor Margareta Mikkelsen, Professor Gilbert Hottois, Professor Luis Archer, Mr Octavi Quintana-Trias, Professor Stefano Rodota.