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Political Figures: European Commission President Axes Science Adviser Position

by Laura Howes
November 20, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 47

Credit: European Commission
Credit: European Commission

The European Commission’s new president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has eliminated the post of chief science adviser to the commission, the executive branch of the European Union. But Juncker hasn’t yet established an alternative mechanism for getting science advice, which has left many wondering how the commission will ensure that science backs its policy decisions.

Credit: European Union
Credit: European Union

Anne Glover, a molecular biologist who held the science adviser’s job since it was created in 2012, announced in an e-mail last week that her position no longer exists. She will remain on the payroll of the European Commission until next year. Although government science advisers are common in the U.S. and U.K., most European countries do not have an equivalent and instead rely on advisory committees or scientific societies.

“President Juncker now needs to clarify with urgency what alternative structures for scientific advice he plans to put in place,” says James Wilsdon, a professor of science and democracy at the University of Sussex, in England.

Royal Society of Chemistry Chief Executive Officer Robert Parker calls for EU policy to be underpinned by scientific evidence. “We look forward to seeing how the commission ensures this is core to EU policy-making going forward,” Parker says.

A spokeswoman for Juncker says the president is “still thinking about how to institutionalize” scientific advice at the commission.

After Juncker’s election in July, several advocacy groups lobbied him to dump the chief science adviser post. A key issue for them was genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Greenpeace and other groups wrote to Juncker, saying that Glover “presented one-sided, partial opinions in the debate … repeatedly claiming that there was a scientific consensus about their safety.” GMOs are a contentious issue in Europe, and several countries are pushing the EU to allow them to ban cultivation of genetically engineered crops.

After pushback from scientists and politicians, Juncker appeared to assure them that the role of chief science adviser would remain. But over time, his commitment has appeared less concrete.

Glover is not giving interviews but indicated in a tweet that her firing was not because of her views on GMOs.



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