EFSA's director thinks Juncker does not need a Chief Scientific Adviser

The position of Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission (CSA), created by Barroso in 2012 and held by Prof Anne Glover until the end of the Barroso Commission (30 October 2013), was not renewed in the new Juncker Commission.

CEO and many other NGOs had asked for the position to be scrapped, arguing that giving only one scientist the possibility to secretely advise the Commission's President on "any aspect of science, technology and innovation" threatened the integrity of the EU's existing scientific assessment system by creating the possibility to bypass it. A "constant target for lobbying" in her own words, Prof Glover seems to have been manipulated in 2013 into forwarding key messages to the top of the Commission on the very sensitive issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals, a particularly bitter-fought lobbying battle in Brussels these past years.

At a hearing organised by the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Dr Bernhard Url, the director of the EU's Food safety agency (EFSA), was asked by MEP Julie Girling, a British conservative who has been strongly supporting the existence of the CSA position, whether he thought that the European Commission's current President, Jean-claude Juncker, needed a CSA. Dr Url replied that although Prof Glover's contribution had been positive, he thought that the European Commission had "a lot of scientific knowledge in its agencies and the JRC" and that there was "enough scientific capability around [...] without a chief scientific adviser".

Many articles in the press, repeating critical quotes from UK scientists pooled together and propelled in the media by the Science Media Centre, a London-based PR organisation whose most important funders are large corporations and the UK government, have for the past three weeks been attacking Juncker's decision to not appoint a replacement to Prof Glover, accusing him of giving in to the "anti-science" "green lobby". Critics focussed on a secondary point in our first letter contradicting Prof Glover's sweeping public statements on the safety of "GMOs", and, instead of checking why we had made such radical demands, simply assumed we were shooting at the messenger without realising that they were missing the main issue, which is the very way scientific advice is provided to politicans. As far as CEO is aware, there is no evidence that Juncker's decision (or, rather, non-decision) would have been influenced by our joint letters: all we ever got from his office was acknowledgments of receipt, and the meeting request we sent to discuss our suggestions for improving scientific advice to the European Commission was turned down.

Dr Url's statement confirms that both the creation and the non-renewal of the CSA position had little to do with improving the scientific basis for policies and much to do with politics. But this isn't the end of the story. Juncker said to all those involved in this debate that he was committed to independent scientific advice, and we urge him to stick to his word and improve the transparency, independence and excellence of the EU's scientific assessment system: it badly needs it.