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2.  A science policy closer to the citizens

2.1   Involving civil society

The Commission is committed to improving transparency and consultation between administrations and civil society, as outlined in the White Paper on European Governance. To this end, it will adopt a set of minimum standards to be followed by its departments in all policy areas, including research. If citizens and civil society (1) are to become partners in the debate on science, technology and innovation in general and on the creation of the European Research Area in particular, it is not enough to simply keep them informed. They must also be given the opportunity to express their views in the appropriate bodies.

The Commission has already called on Member States to encourage stakeholder debates on innovation involving scientists, industry, consumers and public authorities, and pointed to the value of linkages between Members States' measures in this direction.

Strengthening the democratic process

Some countries in the Union have established technology assessment bureaux in their national parliaments to facilitate parliamentary decision-making and public debate.
At European level, the European Parliament's technology assessment network (EPTA) is made up of specialist organisations that advise national parliaments on the possible social, economic and environmental impacts of scientific and technological progress. The European Parliament has also set up its own scientific and technological options assessment team (STOA) which is a member of the EPTA network.

Procedures for the participation of civil society

Some Member States have a long tradition of organising participatory procedures, such as the consensus conferences and citizens' juries mentioned in the first chapter. They aim to provide a space for scrutiny and informed debate on important issues of public concern, bringing together the public, interest groups and policy makers. Scientists participate when the issue in question hinges in one way or another on scientific assessments. They complement the formal decision-making process, and can help pave the way for sound policies. More recently, Internet discussions have been launched on various topics at both national and European level.

Various participatory mechanisms have been used in shaping research policy. At the Community level, stakeholders, users and the scientific community have been increasingly involved in RTD policy development and implementation. Systematic and structured participation has most recently centred around EAGs (expert advisory groups - twenty EAGs have been established for key actions under the Fifth RTD Framework Programme) and advisory bodies, for example, the newly established EURAB (European Research Advisory Board - C (2001)531/EC, EURATOM, 27.6.2001). Ad hoc arrangements such as platforms, workshops and other dialogue mechanisms are also used to enable interested parties to express their views. These experiences, however, now need to be widened and deepened to systematically include other sectors of civil society at all stages.

Action 22

The Commission will organise, through workshops and networks, an exchange of information and best practice between Member States and the regions on the use of participatory procedures for national and regional policies.

These exchanges may lead to additional measures for addressing pan-European issues involving science and technology. These could include interactions between participants in national events, as well as the possibility of organising participatory procedures at the European level (2) .

Specific events for the European Research Area

The Commission itself often organises public consultations in preparation of policy initiatives. A recent example addressing both research and technological applications is the preparation of a strategic vision for life sciences and biotechnology. This consultation was facilitated by publication of a detailed consultation document, creation of an Internet dialogue platform, and a stakeholder conference held in September 2001. Shortly afterwards, the Commission established a GMO Round Table in the context of the European Research Area, bringing together European bio-safety researchers and other stakeholders, such as consumer organisations, national administrations and industry, to ensure that up-to-date knowledge accompanies the safe use of genetically modified organisms.

Action 23

The Commission will organise regular events enabling civil society to participate (in the form of public hearings, consensus conferences or interactive online forums (for example on CORDIS, the Community Research and Development Information Service: in specific issues (biotechnology, environment, information technologies, health, innovation, etc.), in cooperation with the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

(1) Civil society organisations have been defined as those whose members have objectives and responsibilities that are of general interest and who also act as mediators between the public authorities and citizens. They may include trade unions and employers' organisations ("social partners"); non-governmental organisations; professional associations; charities; grass-roots organisations; organisations that involve citizens in local and municipal life; churches and religious communities.

(2) For example, on 22 June 2001 the Commission adopted a proposal for a new action programme to financially support between 2002 and 2006 European non-governmental organisations (NGOs) primarily active in environmental protection COM(2001)337. This also promotes systematic involvement of NGOs at all stages of policy-shaping.

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