Written by Dr Zsolt Pataki with James Tarlton,
The European Parliament must ‘produce results which are evidence-based’. This is how Paul Rübig, Chair of the STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) Panel, set the scene for this year’s round of the MEP-scientist pairing scheme. The objective of the scheme is to foster better connections between the European Parliament and the scientific community, with a view to improving how science is used to guide policy-making. To achieve this goal, part of STOA’s mission, ensuring that MEPs have regular access to reliable information is essential. For this reason the very successful fourth round of the scheme is followed by this fifth round.
The launch event, ‘Science meets Parliaments’, was jointly organised by STOA and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) on 8 November 2016. Two sessions were moderated by Vladimír Šucha, Director-General of the JRC, and Eva Kaili, First Vice-Chair of STOA, respectively. The sessions featured statements by high-level representatives of major stakeholders (Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport; Jerzy Buzek, Chair of the ITRE Committee; Henrik Wegener, Chair of the SAM (Scientific Advice Mechanism) High Level Group; and Markku Markkula, President of the Committee of the Regions), and a number of personalities working in the public sector and academia (Pavol Šajgalík, President of the Slovak Academy of Sciences; Francesco Russo, Italian Senator; Lidia Borrell-Damian, Director for Research and Innovation at the European Universities Association; Sabine Ehrhart, Professor, University of Luxembourg; and Kostadin Kostadinov, Professor of Robotics, Municipality of Sofia. Discussion focused on how best to build bridges between the scientific and the political community.
Twitter feed: #EUsci4PARL – Science meets Parliaments
Facebook live chat: Live chat: MEP Eva Kaili and Professor Tom Joyce for Science meets Parliaments
EuroparlTV video: Scientists meet MEPs
Given the huge interest in creating a scientific forum within the European Parliament, participants and organisers agreed to continue with the tradition of ‘Science meets Parliaments’ events next year, and to involve even more stakeholders and institutions.
The pairing scheme itself ran from 8 to 10 November, with 15 scientists from across Europe engaging with MEPs. Following the launch event, the scientists discovered the workings of Parliament through a series of presentations, and then had the opportunity to present their research to interested participants.
The following day, the scientists began shadowing their MEP counterparts. The purpose of this was to develop a mutual understanding between the scientists and the MEPs, and for them to get a better idea of how best to communicate with one another. It also allowed the scientists to get acquainted with the way in which policy is developed in the Parliament, while giving MEPs the chance to learn from the scientists’ expertise.
There is often a lot of uncertainty among MEPs and scientists as to how the other community carries out its work. Many of the visiting scientists said that this was a major motivation for their participation in the scheme. The affects of European legislation on the progress or application of scientific research, or failure to take into account the results of this research, sometimes appears confusing or frustrating. Moreover, many MEPs have little knowledge of how scientific research is carried out, and how best to tell scientists how they can help guide policy-making.
Through extended contact over two days, the pairs of MEPs and scientists were given the opportunity to learn about one another’s work. By shadowing their paired MEPs in committee and other meetings, the scientists experienced first-hand how parliamentary decisions are made. The MEPs were able to question their paired scientists at length about their work in an informal setting, and even ask for scientific input on issues on which they are currently working.
Another important aspect of the scheme was to help the scientists better communicate the results of their research to MEPs, in order to better inform policy-making. In a workshop organised by the JRC, the scientists were asked to consider what factors influence policy decisions, and how provision of evidence could be facilitated on both sides. The resulting discussion looked into the challenges faced by MEPs, as well as to how information should be presented in a policy context.
In a stock-taking meeting at the end of the week, the scientists described their experience as ‘fascinating’, ‘insightful’ and ‘a pleasure’. They have now returned to their research institutes, where they will hopefully apply what they have learned and share their experiences with their colleagues. The pairs of MEPs and scientists are encouraged to keep in touch and arrange visits to the scientists’ institutions, to maintain the connections forged during this week.
To keep up to date on the activities linked to this and future rounds of the ‘Science meets Parliaments’ initiative and the MEP-Scientist pairing scheme, see information on the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) Blog, or follow us on Twitter @EP_ThinkTank.