The interior of the European Parliament

Brussels visit illuminates EU science policy for members

By 05.12.14

Science Council staff and member organisations spent two days in Brussels learning more about policy development in the EU and how to engage better in the process.

EU policy development and funding priorities can have a considerable impact here in the UK, but it isn’t always clear how the EU operates and comes to its decisions.

So to put this right the Science Council organised a two day visit to Brussels to help familiarise our members with the EU political and administrative process, and in particular the extent of scientific evidence in policy making and how science is regarded more generally.

So how did it go?

On day one our first meeting was with Professor Anne Glover, the outgoing Chief Science Advisor, who was very candid about how convoluted the process of getting robust evidence in policy-making can be. “There is a difference between evidence and political imperative,” she said. “Evidence can be used as an excuse to pursue political imperative.” Anne shared her experiences with us and answered our questions, providing some very useful advice on where our organisations may be able to add value.

We then met Conservative Party MEP Vicky Ford, who used her time with us to hear our ‘one wish’ for science policy in the EU. There was a fascinating range around the room, from the skills agenda to recognising professionalism in applied science to anti-microbial resistance.

The morning of day two was spent observing various committee meetings, marvelling at the skill of the translators.

In the afternoon we met with Labour MEPs, Derek Green from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats and Teresa Mergulhao, Political Advisor for the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. They were very open about their experiences and keen to share their advice on engaging effectively with them and their colleagues.

Our final meeting was with Dr Neville Reeve at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, who explained more about the Horizon 2020 programme and its support for scientific research and entrepreneurship. Christina Miller from the UK Research Office joined us to share her expertise on collaboration and partnership within Brussels.

Overall a successful if tiring first visit and provided a great introduction to the EU. It was fun to get to know other policy staff across our membership as well.  I think one of the most important achievements has been for Science Council to have showcased the breadth of interests and expertise from our member organisations and their willingness to engage with MEPs and the Commission.

For those who had never visited the Brussels ‘machine’ before it will be an eye opener. Even for those old hands will have taken away something from the visit.

To make any real and lasting impact in Brussels professional bodies have to find a way of having a sustained presence. Professional bodies will need to consider how they can maintain and support ongoing connection and interactions.