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The role of expertise in European policy-making and public debate

Recent debate in Europe concerning issues such as BSE (‘mad cow disease’) and the use of genetically modified organisms, has demonstrated the need for a better connection between experts, particularly those possessing scientific expertise, the public and policy-makers on issues affecting the daily lives of citizens. The European Commission is currently exploring new ways to organise the use of expertise to improve the quality of policy-making and public debate. Among the issues being examined are the timing of expert consultation, how issues of uncertainty and risk should be handled, and the role of the media.

To focus this debate the Commission has set up a working group on "Democratising expertise and establishing European scientific references". The group is particularly concerned with issues such as the transparency, access, plurality, accountability, quality, integrity and independence of expertise in policy-making. Its findings will feed into the preparation of a White Paper on European Governance "Enhancing Democracy in the European Union", due to be published in summer 2001.

As part of this process, the working group would now welcome the views of policy-makers, experts (particularly those who have contributed to policy-making processes), and the public, including representative groups, on these issues. You are therefore invited to provide comments using the attached questionnaire.

The questionnaire will invite you to list problems, current beneficial practices and other suggestions on the following issues:

  • The role of experts in policy-making and public debate in general (e.g. independence, transparency, adequate, etc.).
  • The timing of expert consultation in the different phases of the policy-making process.
  • The type and range of expertise consulted.
  • The selection of experts (e.g. who makes the selection; dealing with vested interests).
  • How the experts should share information among themselves.
  • What should be done when experts disagree (e.g. two schools of thought; minority views).
  • How uncertainties in the knowledge should be dealt with by the experts and by the policy-makers.
  • Informing the public of the expert advice used in policy-making.
  • Making the expertise understandable and accessible to the public.
  • Dialogue and mutual learning between experts and the public.
  • Role of the media.
  • Any other issue.

It will also ask for your ideas on the concept of European scientific reference systems. This concept has yet to be defined in detail, but may be expected to involve the networking of centres of excellence and the establishment of a reliable and recognised systems for validating and comparing scientific results, methods of analysis, monitoring and certification.

Although it will not be necessary to respond to all the questions, the questionnaire will probably take at least 20 minutes to complete on-line.

If you have any problems in completing or submitting the questionnaire,
please send an e-mail to, or a fax message to + 32 2 296.3024.

Contributions should be submitted by Tuesday, 15 May 2001.

For further information, you may wish to consult the following web sites:

  • The White Paper covers a number of areas, and details of the work programme approved by the European Commission on 11 October 2000 can be found on
  • A document setting out issues being considered by the group on "democratising expertise and establishing European scientific references" can also be found on on this website.



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