Bad day for policy as EU chief scientific advisor role scrapped

18 November 2014

International scientists have reacted with horror to the news that the post of EU Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) has been scrapped by the new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The CSA provides expert, independent advice on science, technology and innovation to the European Commission president and policymakers. The current post holder Professor Anne Glover, a molecular biologist from the University of Aberdeen, was formerly Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland and highly regarded throughout the scientific and policy communities.

However, a group of environmental lobbyists led by Greenpeace – angered by Prof Glover’s support for on genetically modified plants - wrote to Mr Juncker demanding that the post be axed as ‘fundamentally problematic’. They also directly accused ‘Ms Anne Glover’ (as they styled her) of presenting ‘one-sided partial opinions‘, and (ironically), claimed that the role undermined independence and integrity.

Respected UK and European bodies have expressed dismay at the news and urged Mr Juncker to reconsider. Many groups including prominent medical research charities had previously contacted him to express support for the role, as had science journalists.

Prof Dermot Kelleher, President of the Federation of European Academies of Medicine, said:The removal of the role of chief scientific adviser to the European Commission President is a step back for European science policy. Such a senior academic advisory position was key in catalyzing scientific advice, from across the spectrum, to inform the work of the European Commission in formulating sound policies for Europe”.

Prof Nigel Brown, President of the Society for General Microbiology, said he was appalled at the abolition of the CSA post, adding: “Many of the major challenges facing Europe – climate change, food security, healthy ageing, disease control – require scientific input to policy at the very highest level. This is disastrously short-sighted”.

President of the Royal Society Prof Sir Paul Nurse observed that: "If the Commission has a plausible plan for ensuring that scientific evidence will be taken seriously they need to start sharing it with people soon, otherwise they will encourage those who portray the Commission as out of touch and not willing to listen to informed advice".

It has been suggested that the role might be replaced by several policy adviser roles, but the entire Bureau of European Policy Advisers, within which the CSA role sat, is also to be scrapped.

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