Brussels, 15 Jul 2003
If the European Union is to become the world's premier knowledge based economy, greater dialogue between politicians and scientists is needed, said Gerhard Schmid, vice president of European Parliament and chair of its scientific and technological options assessment (STOA) unit.
STOA is an official unit of the European Parliament, consisting of external experts commissioned by the Parliament to undertake scientific or technological assessment studies which it believes would assist MEPs in their policy shaping role.
In his editorial for STOA's latest newsletter, Mr Schmid referred to the Danish, German, Italian and Swiss parliaments, where a separate technology assessment unit, distinct from the general research and documentation services, has been set up to carry out the complex task of advising policymakers on issues related to achieving a knowledge based economy.
'Like the above, the EP [European Parliament] needs short, timely information with strict deadlines for ongoing reports and also long term detailed assessments for matters coming on the horizon,' claims Mr Schmid.
While STOA has done some commendable work since it was set up nearly two years ago as a technological impact assessment tool, Mr Schmid believes changes in the structure of STOA are necessary to adapt to the growing complexity in the nature of assessing technological developments: 'technological leaps are no longer measured in centuries, but in decades or less. Assessing such developments is becoming ever more complicated,' he argues.
Mr Schmid says that structural reforms are already underway to provide the next Parliament with a more responsive documentation centre, as well as decentralised research support directly linked to the committees.
However, technological impact assessment alone cannot provide the policy makers with a balanced perspective. 'Technological impact assessments supply facts and options for action; but they do not provide proper judgments. Often, on the basis of the same facts, very different conclusions are drawn.'
'Only with science-based argument on the pros and cons of options is it possible to take policy decisions with long-term effects in full knowledge of all the opportunities and risks involved. This presupposes a dialogue between the scientific and political communities which, to date at EU level, has been patchy at best,' writes Mr Schmid.
Mr Schmid also says that STOA has a key role to play in organising dialogue between the scientific, engineering, medical and political communities in order to make understandable complex science or technology policy decisions with long-term impact. STOA has taken steps in this direction by organising more workshops; making better use of its resources and clearly demarcating its assessment and communication tasks.
For further information about STOA, please consult the following web address: