Written by Nera Kuljanic and Zsolt G. Pataki,
Finding a firm and lasting link between science and politics was the main reason for the European Parliament’s STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) Panel to run the MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme for the 4th time. The project was officially introduced by the First STOA Vice-Chair Eva KAILI at the ‘Science meets Parliaments’ event, which STOA organised, together with the European Commission’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), on 15 September 2015 in the European Parliament.
From 25 to 27 January 2016, 31 researchers from 11 Member States paired with 31 MEPs were invited to the European Parliament for a unique experience: on the one hand, to share the results of their scientific work with the politicians, and on the other, to get acquainted with the work of the European Parliament’s Members, committees and research services. Interestingly, some of the Members involved in the previous edition (2011-2012) participated again. During these three days, scientists also shadowed their MEP counterparts in their daily activities. The goal was to make the languages of science and politics more understandable to one another.
Upon their arrival, the scientists had the chance to get to know the work of the EP’s nascent department – the European Parliamentary Research Service, established in November 2013 – and to participate in a session offered by the JRC on practical tips for providing effectively scientific evidence to policy-makers.
In order to make science more relevant for policy-making, the participating researchers emphasised the importance of always taking social impacts into account in their work, the need for more transparency and ethical considerations in research, and the need for policy-makers to rely more on research available in their own and other Member States and seek contacts with the researchers. There was an opportunity for self-criticism too, as scientists reasoned that they should not present opinions but only facts, and that both scientists and politicians should be close to society and should avoid tunnel vision in their respective work.
Building continuous trust between the two sides
This hands-on experience with the political decision-making processes of the European Parliament was highly appreciated by the scientists. It helped them to learn about the legislative procedures in the Parliament, and to get an insight into who does what in the EP decision-making.
Furthermore, the intense interactions allowed scientists to better understand the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of communicating science to politics. They felt that direct contact with decision-makers was the best way for communicating science and that, by meeting and discussing with politicians, scientific advice and the ways to provide it could be improved, and become more transparent and more options-oriented. The Members benefited too, as they were able to have intense and in-depth discussions with their academic counterparts about topics with a scientific dimension currently on the EP agenda.
This was also a perfect occasion for putting things into practice: some researchers even had the opportunity to directly help Members in their work on official EP reports and legislative files.
For most of the participants, this event exceeded their expectations and at the end a promise was made: scientists and politicians agreed to continue their cooperation and already inked their next meetings in their calendars. Very soon it will be the academics’ turn to receive the politicians in their labs. The two sides are also encouraged to organise joint activities, such as information events, exhibitions or visits to research facilities.
To find out more about what scientists and MEPs did, check this video clip.