Brussels, 01 Jun 2006
The UK's Royal Society has launched a new scheme pairing MEPs and scientists, to bridge the gap between politics and research. At the launch in Brussels on 31 May, former Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin announced that he would like to extend the scheme, associating MEPs with EU-funded Integrated Projects.
The Royal Society began the scheme five years ago in the UK, and has successfully paired over 100 MPs with scientists. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting science, founded in 1660. This extension of the scheme to the EU-level is a pilot, involving seven UK MEPs paired with seven scientists from their constituencies. If successful, the programme will be extended to MEPs and scientists from around the EU.
Participant and Chair of the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee, Giles Chichester, explained that he hopes not only to learn more about science from the exercise, but to change views on the European Union. 'For me, one of the important things will be trying to emphasise that the image people of have of MEPs, and perhaps parliamentarians in general, is a little wide of the mark,' he said. 'I hope the idea spreads. We both have a great deal to learn,' he said.
These views were reiterated by Lord Selborne, Chairman of the Royal Society's Science in Society committee. 'It's important that we input high quality scientific advice into policy making, and I hope that it will make a wider contribution to understanding of the European Union. [...] I hope it's the harbinger of many things to come,' he said.
Lord Selborne explained briefly the objectives behind the scheme as: making scientists more aware of policy making; making sure MEPs understand the issues involved; making MEPs aware of the opportunities that science offers; and networking.
The seven scientists began a week in Brussels on 30 May. They will spend time shadowing their MEP, meeting officials from EU institutions, and attending training sessions. In June or July the MEPs will then visit their scientist in the laboratory, and the scientists will then pay a visit to their MEPs in their constituencies.
Dr Melissa Bateson is a researcher at the School of Biology: Psychology, Brain and Behaviour at the University of Newcastle, and is a participant in the scheme. At the end of only her second day in Brussels, she already felt that she had learnt a huge amount. 'In the UK we have a very negative view of what the EU does because most of the media coverage is so negative and trivial,' she told CORDIS News. In particular, Dr Bateson felt that she had benefited from learning about how legislation is made at EU level, and how citizens in Europe can genuinely influence legislation.
Dr Bateson said that she had sat in one discussion on publishing in science between MEPs and felt that those present had been very ill-informed. MEP Bill Newton Dunn conceded that this is sometimes the case, and admitted that there is a big job ahead. However, he also emphasised that scientists as well as MEPs have to contribute to the mutual learning process. 'It's no good you coming over once, saying 'I've done that', and never coming to Brussels again,' he said. 'You have to have a permanent link.' Dr Bateson was happy to confirm that she intends to maintain a relationship with her MEP.
Belgian MEP Philippe Busquin gave the keynote address at the launch event. He announced that he has compiled a list of MEPs interested in being associated to an Integrated Project - the large research projects funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). MEPs do not generally have much of an understanding of these projects, and so would benefit by learning how they function, as well as learning about the science involved, he said. He noted that disseminating information on science is already foreseen under the 'science and society' section of the EU's research framework programmes.
The MEPs and scientists involved in the scheme are:
- Linda McAvan, Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber, paired with Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds;
- Giles Chichester, Conservative MEP for South West has been paired with Dr Hazel Mottram of the University of Bristol;
- John Bowis, Conservative MEP for London, paired with Dr Mark Enright of Imperial College London;
- Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for North East, paired with Dr Melissa Bateson, University of Newcastle;
- Malcolm Harbour, Conservative MEP for West Midlands, paired with Dr Graham Smith of the University of Birmingham;
- Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat MEP for North West, paired with Dr Martin Attfield of the University of Manchester;
- Eluned Morgan, Labour MEP for Wales, paired with Dr Helen Coxall from Cardiff University.