The use of expertise
We need experts to reassure us, to warn us, and to
shed light on complex and often controversial issues
of the day. Experts help to identify problems, shape
policies and stir the public debate on topics as diverse
as climate change and genetically modified organisms.
Many channels exist for feeding advice from experts
into science-based policy development. The well-structured
system of scientific committees now established at
the Community level for risk assessments in consumer
health and food safety has been mentioned in section
3.2. Elsewhere, there are a variety of international
and European mechanisms in policy areas such as air
quality (1) , climate change and
fisheries. These are complemented by ad hoc arrangements
according to the nature, urgency or state of knowledge
of the issues to be addressed. Other layers and forms
of advisory structures can be found at national level.
Within this framework a distinction can be made between
collective, formal advice provided through committees
or advisory groups mandated and established by policy-makers,
and solicited or unsolicited opinions or findings,
such as scientific information, provided by individuals
or organisations outside any formal process (which
may, nevertheless, assist formal advisory groups in
arriving at their conclusions).
Against this diverse background, there is nevertheless
a tendency for the process of using expertise to be
contested and mistrusted.
Firstly, science is often perceived as dealing with
certainty and hard facts, whereas in reality this
is rarely the case, particularly at the frontier of
research. Scientists are naturally cautious, and the
advice they provide is often wrapped in caveats. There
may also be more than one school of thought, or there
may be maverick voices arguing against the mainstream.
There can then be a sense of frustration and despair when experts fail to provide
simple answers to apparently simple questions. The
conclusion: 'Even the experts don't know what they're
talking about!' A more coherent interface is needed
between the providers and receivers of advice, with
mutual understanding and clear communication between
Scientific advice for the Common Fisheries
The major objective of the Common Fisheries
Policy is to promote the sustainable and responsible
exploitation of fisheries resources within
and outside Community waters. To develop regulations
in the light of the best available scientific
advice, the Commission relies upon the International
Council for the Exploration of the Seas, which
is responsible for the collection and analysis
of biological data relating to fish stocks
of the North Atlantic.
The advice of the ICES committee on fish
stocks management is then discussed within
the Commission's own Scientific Technical
and Economic Committee for Fisheries. Based
on this, the Commission prepares its proposals
for regulation, which are later presented
to a separate advisory committee which channels
the views of stakeholders (fishing industry,
consumers, NGOs etc.).
Secondly, policy-makers at all levels do not always
find it easy to tap into the resource of knowledge
provided by the diversity of scientific cultures and
range of specialised centers of excellence in Europe.
At worst, they are open to allegations that only 'tame'
experts are selected, known to support pre-formed
policy decisions. There needs to be a more systematic
and open approach, at national and European level,
to identify the best expertise at the right time.
Thirdly, advice can appear remote if the public and
stakeholders are excluded, and are unable or ill equipped
to contribute to the debate and to challenge the experts
and the advice they give. There is a need to open
up the process by providing opportunities for the
voicing of alternative views ('a competition of ideas'),
for scrutiny and for constructive debate. Experience
shows that when scientific networks link with national
regulators, associate representatives of the various
stakeholders, including civil society whereappropriate,
and operate with transparent procedures the conflict
potential of certain issues is largely defused and
acceptance of the ensuing regulation increases (2)
The aim, then, is not only to instil a sense of trust,
but also to deliver policies that are more robust.
As previously indicated, the Commission has been
responding to these challenges through the revamping
of its scientific committees in consumer health and
food safety, and the imminent establishment of the
European Food Authority.
The Commission now intends to spread good practices
and to capitalise on lessons learned from the different
policy sectors. For example, much can be done to provide
more systematic and readily accessible information
for the public on the mandate, membership, deliberations
or recommendations of these different structures in
all policy areas (study on transparency and openness
in scientific advisory committees: STOA, European
Parliament, October 1998, PE 167 327/ Fin. St.). A
'one-stop-shop' consolidating these details would
also be beneficial for the public.
In developing and implementing the actions below,
the Commission will maintain and reinforce a dialogue
with Member State administrations, advisory bodies
and other actors.
Setting guidelines for the use of expertise at
The White Paper on European Governance identified
the need for guidelines on the use of expertise (this
flows from the preparatory work on expertise: Democratising
expertise and establishing scientific reference systems
(group 1b), European Commission, July 2001). These
guidelines, to be developed by an interdepartmental
working group, will be published from June 2002. They
will complement other actions from the White Paper,
such as minimum standards for the consultation of
civil society. Building on existing practices and
experience, the guidelines should set out core principles,
particularly for greater openness and accountability
in the use of expertise in science-based policy development.
The key aim is to establish and maintain the confidence
of everyone who may be involved in, or rely on, the
process. The guidelines should address, for example,
public attendance at expert meetings, publication
and scrutiny of advice, and the way in which the Commission
explains how subsequent policy proposals take account
of advice proffered. They should also provide for
a widening of the expert base by encouraging recourse
to multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral know-how,
and by suggesting mechanisms for the involvement of
the public, stakeholders and organised civil society.
A set of guidelines will be established for the
Commission's own practices in selecting and using
expertise for policy-making. They could form the basis
of a subsequent proposal for a common approach by
other institutions and the Member States, and eventually
the accession countries. Co-operation with Member
States through a network, workshops, and other dialogue
exchanges will enable experiences to be shared and
best practices to be spread.
Improving the delivery of scientific support to
The Commission will continue to develop improved
mechanisms for delivering scientific support to policy
These mechanisms should capitalise on the full breadth
and diversity of expertise available in Europe. They
are intended to enhance the scientific support to
policy-making beyond the implementation of formal
regulatory procedures. Where relevant, they may be
based on networks of researchers such as those created
through the RTD Framework Programmes, including the
JRC. Such networks should facilitate communication
both between scientists themselves, and between scientists
and policy-makers. Whilst they would function in conformity
with the guidelines mentioned above, particularly
with regard to the need for independence, transparency
and breadth of know-how, a variety of models will
be required to meet the demands of different sectors
and time-scales. Two models can be identified now:
The first model combines a network of sources of
scientific information with a database of previously
prepared scientific conclusions on issues of public
concern. The Commission could draw on such a resource
when seeking information on specific policy-related
questions. In the longer term, it could be made available
to other policy-making authorities and to citizens
and civil society.
A pilot study will be conducted into the creation
of an open internet-based network of scientists and
organisations concerned with scientific issues. The
aim will be to provide information for policy support (SINAPSE).
The second model would consist of organisations or
networks capable of providing validated data, harmonised
information or support for policy-making. Such European
Common Scientific Reference Systems (ECSRS) could
play a supporting role in problem identification,
policy-shaping, or long-term implementation of regulations.
In its core areas of competence the Joint Research
Centre will play a catalytic role in the establishment
of these ECSRS.
The Commission will publish a blueprint for European
Common Scientific Reference Systems (ECSRS), setting
out their scope and function, together with implementation
proposals taking into consideration matters such as
quality assurance and links to international systems.
By taking stock of the sources of expertise currently
used, prototype ECSRS specialising in priority topics
will be identified. Further implementation will be
supported in the next Framework Programme (2002-2006).
In addition, both models will provide a channel for
individual scientists to flag, at an early stage,
new developments and issues. This form of "horizon
scanning" may trigger additional research to replicate
or repudiate the early results, as well as give advance
notice to formal risk assessment and risk management
mechanisms if these already exist in the sector concerned.
The networks could also facilitate the rapid mobilisation
of expertise (e.g. "Scientific Help Desk") in response
to sudden or unexpected needs, for example, bio-terrorism.
The Commission recently launched the "Clean Air for
Europe" programme (CAFE),
seeking to produce an integrated long-term strategy
to protect human health and the environment from the
effects of air pollution. The main aim of the programme
is to coordinate the production, collection and validation
of the scientific and technical data needed to elaborate
a policy in this area.
Some of the networks that the JRC has set up in response
to Member States' request, such as the network of
GMO laboratories or the network on Integrated Pollution
Prevention and Control, provide good examples of this
type of interaction.