Independent Scientific Advice for Policy
15 September 2015, Science for Parliaments, European Parliament
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

Thank you Tibor, Vice President McGuinness, Honourable Members of Parliament, Scientists! Ladies and gentlemen, Good morning!

The questions we will try to answer this morning all boil down to trust. Trust between the citizen and the politician. Trust between the scientific community and policymakers. Trust between scientists and citizens.

We want to be sure that decisions on the safety of new medicines, novel foods, new technologies and so on, are based on facts and not fiction. We want to ensure we take the right decisions in a crisis. We want to ensure that the evidence on which we base our decisions is robust and unbiased. Trust isn't handed out freely. It's built on mutual understanding and mutual respect. It requires openness and exchange.

I'd like to thank the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and STOA for co-organising this event and for putting science for parliaments into focus. I'd like to thank you for taking an active role in building trust between scientists and politicians.

As many of you know, at the beginning of this year, President Juncker asked me to create a new system for independent scientific advice in Commission policy making. A system that draws on experience from around the world and makes it fit for purpose for the Commission. A system that strengthens what was previously done in the Commission and makes independent scientific advice more important and a system that helps build trust between policy makers, scientists and the wider public.

This morning, I'd like to use my time to talk briefly about two things: (1) why independent scientific advice is needed and (2) progress in establishing the Commission's new Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM).

When I started looking at this issue, the first thing that struck me was that the Commission already has a great in-house scientific service with the Joint Research Centre. With over 2000 scientists employed by the Commission, we have a greater in-house capability than most national governments around the world. So the new Scientific Advice Mechanism will not try to replicate or duplicate the role of the JRC as an in-house scientific service. Rather, its role will be to provide independent advice to the European Commission.

Independent advice does not replace in-house scientific support, it complements it. Independent advice means that it cannot come from inside the Commission. Independent advice is essential for building trust in policy making. SAM does not need to cover all the areas in which the JRC is active. It should be selective, and focus on the policies where scientific questions are of critical importance to policy decisions.

These could be short-term issues that require rapid advice, for example, related to the outbreak of a disease such as Ebola. Or medium term issues, for example, where the Commission is preparing a new policy. Or longer term policy issues, such as food security and protein shortage.

I like to think of scientific advice and policy in terms of demand and supply. SAM should help with both of these. Let's take supply first. As I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of scientific evidence available to the Commission.

The Commission has in-house scientific expertise with the Joint Research Centre. We have funded tens of thousands of research projects through Horizon 2020 and previous EU programmes. Many of them are producing policy relevant results. Across different parts of the Commission and European regulatory bodies there is a myriad of advisory bodies, expert groups and scientific committees and of course each Member State has its own scientific advisory system, as do international bodies and advanced economies across the world.

So the issue is not that we are without scientific advice. In fact, we have an abundance of it. The issue is that − when we come to make important policy decisions based on scientific evidence − we need independent scientific advice. We have to be sure that we have the best scientific evidence in front of us, wherever it comes from. We need to understand what the evidence is telling us and where its limits are and we need to demonstrate the independence of this advice. This is what SAM should provide.

Which brings me to the demand side of things. Policy makers need to be able to say where they will need independent scientific advice well in advance. This is not something that policy makers are good at. SAM should help with this. The new Scientific Advice Mechanism is designed to tackle the demand and supply problems, through a stronger relationship with scientific advisory bodies in Member States and the creation of high level group of independent scientists.

Which brings me to my second point. The role of the new High Level Group will be to make sure that the Commission has the best available scientific advice, wherever it comes from. It should guarantee the quality and independence of the advice provided. It should also help identify topics where independent advice is needed.

Before the summer, we appointed an Identification Committee to help find the best members of the Group. An open consultation for nominations has been running for the last two months and was closed just a few days ago. I am happy to say that the response to the consultation has been extremely positive. Over 150 names have been put forward, including nominations from many prestigious scientific organisations. The Identification Committee will now consider these nominations and propose members to me by the end of October. It is my firm intention that the Group will be launched and have its first meeting before the end of the year.

SAM will benefit from a stronger relationship with the scientific community. This should help us to tap into the wealth of expertise that exists in Member States and elsewhere. I am glad to report to you that we are progressing well. In a few weeks' time, the next work programme for Horizon 2020 will include substantial support to the networks of European academies: helping them work together in providing scientific advice.

Academies and learned societies exist in all Member States and have a long and proud tradition of independence. I am very impressed by their willingness to work together and to help organise the supply of scientific advice, but it is important to stress that relationship will not only be with academies. Universities and other scientific organisations will be involved as well.

So the next few months will be an important time for the establishment of SAM. I look forward to working closely with you to make this a success.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are here this morning to ask, what do policymakers need from scientists? And, how communication between the scientific and political communities can be improved? In line with the Commission's Better Regulation Agenda, policy decisions taken with the support of independent scientific advice will be decisions our citizens can trust. They will be decisions we can all have confidence in.

What policymakers need from scientists and vice-versa is much the same. Put simply, we need positive, meaningful working relationships based on trust and mutual accountability. We need to meet each other, to get to know each other and to listen carefully to one another.

I leave you with the words of Geoff Mulgan CBE, Chief Executive of the UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts,

We "should want and even crave the best possible scientific advice! With reliable knowledge come better decisions, fewer mistakes and more results achieved for each pound [or in this case every euro] spent!"

Thank you all for listening and I wish you a very productive day of discussions!