Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Juncker commission leaves scientific advisers in the dark

  • A group photo of the first meeting of the Science and Technology Advisory Council with Victor De Lorenzo (l) and then Commissioner Barroso (fourth from left). (Photo: European Commission)

A group of scientists that advised the previous European Commission has been left in the dark about why their posts were discontinued by the current commission, now four months in office.

Former Chief Scientific Adviser Anne Glover's mandate ended when the last commission finished its term, amidst widespread uncertainty about the future of her post.

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  • Anne Glover: The new Commission "did not want to hear from me about what had worked and what had not worked in my role”. (Photo: European Parliament)

She told the BBC earlier this month that she has never heard from President Jean-Claude Juncker, or anyone from his office.

An informal advisory body (STAC) set up two years ago to support Glover, also received no word about whether their posts would continue or to clarify press reports that Glover might have been let go because of her views on genetically modified crops.

Alan Atkisson, a Swedish-American consultant on sustainable development, was a member of the advisory group, the Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC).

“I have never been contacted personally by Mr Juncker or anyone in his Commission”, he said in an email.

“Given that silence, and the news reports, I made the assumption that our services were no longer required, at the end of (former commission president) Barroso's term.”

Fellow STAC member, Spanish microbiologist Victor de Lorenzo, also heard nothing. “We learned from the paper we didn't exist any longer”, De Lorenzo told this website.

Next Friday (27 February) marks the two-year anniversary of the first STAC meeting.

"We were just hitting our stride", noted Atkisson.

Scientific advice

Barroso appointed Anne Glover as his Chief Scientific Adviser towards the end of 2011.

In early 2013, the then commission president set up the STAC with the aim of “ensuring more evidence-based European Union policy-making” to support Glover.

Since its first meeting in February 2013, the forum convened in Brussels eight times. It consisted of 15 people – who were not paid for their membership – and included geologists, neuroscientists, climate experts and chemists.

Lunch with Barroso

The informal group would meet for a day, with Barroso joining them for lunch.

“The president was always extraordinarily engaged and attentive; it was clear that science and technology issues were a serious priority for him,” said Atkisson.

According to De Lorenzo, the group's scientific advice was not at a detailed policy level but broader.

The group discussed new developments in such areas as 3D printing, synthetic biology, stem cells, and brain physiology.

The STAC also published two reports, the second of which was published in October 2014, the last month that Barroso was in office.

GMO controversy

Shortly afterwards news reports started emerging that the position of Chief Scientific Adviser would not be filled under Juncker, and that Anne Glover was fired because of her views on genetically modified crops.

The controversy followed an open letter from July 2014, in which a group of NGOs had asked Juncker, who was president-elect at the time, to scrap the post.

“The post of Chief Scientific Adviser is fundamentally problematic as it concentrates too much influence in one person”, a letter signed by Greenpeace and other NGOs read.

The NGOs accused Glover of presenting “one-sided, partial opinions".

The commission denies Glover was fired or that her post no longer exists. “It is not true that the post of Chief Scientific Adviser has been scrapped”, spokesperson Lucia Caudet told this website.

However, Caudet did not say what the future of the STAC would be, or explain why its members had not been contacted.

Juncker has asked science commissioner Carlos Moedas to look into how to better institutionalise future independent scientific advice to the commission, and to present his findings by the summer.

“Would it have made sense to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser for just a few months pending the decision?”, said Caudet.

Several members of the European Parliament have urged Juncker to appoint a successor to Glover.

When Glover asked to meet Juncker or one of his officials, she received no answer.

“The new commission has said that it values independent scientific advice … and that it is to consider how it will be delivering that. But they did not want to hear from me about what had worked and what had not worked in my role”, Glover told the BBC.

Commissioner Moedas "welcomes all input, including Prof. Glover's, who he knows and respects greatly", said Caudet by way of response.

Atkisson, for his part, said he believes “the establishment of STAC as an institution would be of significant benefit to Europe” and added that he would have liked to have continued as a member.

Victor De Lorenzo said “it's a pity” that the future of the STAC is currently in limbo. "It was just two years, which was not enough to see major results.”

"It seems that Mr Juncker has very little interest or appreciation for science as a major component of policy making", added Riitta Salmelin, a third former STAC member, from Finland.

Meanwhile, the websites of the CSA and the STAC have been archived. After Glover changed the name of her Twitter account to @AnneGlover_EU, someone took the opportunity to claim the newly available handle @EU_ScienceChief, which is now being used to advertise online games.

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The €315 billion Juncker fund must support more science projects, says EU commissioner Carlos Moedas, who urged the EU to "do much better" in research and innovation.

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