Academies research facts for the EU

Five networks of European academies do the heavy lifting when the European Commission needs scientific facts. In two of the organizations, Fellows from The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) have important missions.

There is an increasing demand for scientific facts as a basis for political decisions. The pandemic has further boosted this demand. European academies are doing their part to produce facts based on science.

Euro-CASE gathers forces from 23 European academies, focusing on engineering and technology. IVA is one of these 23. Tuula Teeri, IVA's President, is the Vice Chairman of Euro-CASE.

- IVA attaches great importance to European relationships, and Euro-CASE is a good channel for that. In IVA's project “Sustainable New Start for Sweden,” we determined that the most important thing right now is active cooperation within the EU. Considering the global competition and the necessary balancing between the US, China, and Russia, our home market is incredibly important for Sweden's future, she says.

The European Commission needs a solid, fact-based basis to make well-informed decisions. Producing this is usually a task for one or more of the five European networks of academies.

- Euro-CASE assists in the heavy lifting by sifting through and finding reliable information within our focus areas. This way of working is reminiscent of the way IVA does it, and several of IVA's Fellows have taken part in projects like this. The most recent one was Professor Ann-Christin Albertsson, who led a working group on the biodegradability of plastics in the open environment, says Tuula Teeri.

The results are handled by the Commission's own scientific advisors. These experts are the ones who formulate the advice that ends up on the Commission's table.

- Often, the Commission orders documentation for a certain subject. But the academies can also suggest and work on a subject we think the Commission should look closer at, she says.

The fact-dense reports from the academies have an effect. GDPR was heavily influenced by the academies' submission on cybersecurity. The EU's strategy for a climate-neutral energy system is another example.

- One advantage of Euro-CASE is that we are independent and work from several countries.

It is of course fitting, from IVA's perspective, that Euro-CASE has gathered around three platforms: innovation, energy, and engineering education.

- Through this cooperation we can both learn from other countries' experiences and influence European development, says Tuula Teeri.

Another of the five European networks of academies is EASAC. This organization includes national scientific academies from all EU countries, as well as scientific academies in Norway, Switzerland, and the UK. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) is one of the members. Christina Moberg, Professor Emeritus at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, is Chairman. She is also a Fellow of both KVA and IVA.

- We saw that there was a need to compile a scientific basis for the decision-makers. That is why EASAC was founded here at KVA 20 years ago, Christina Moberg says.

The European Commission and the European Parliament are the main receivers, but even decision-makers in the individual Member States can get access to scientific facts before they make a final decision.

- We are also aimed towards the general public, to a certain extent. In a democracy, it is important that the public can form a factually supported opinion about certain questions.

EASAC compiles facts within the areas of environment, energy, and life sciences.

- It is not set in stone, but within these three areas, there are many political decisions being made.

For each area, there is a panel of members from EASAC's member academies. This is where the discussions about which specific questions need scientific illumination take place. The matter is then dealt with in the Bureau, which corresponds to the presidium of Swedish academies. The Bureau can bring the matter on to the EASAC's General Assembly, the Council, which makes a final decision on whether a workgroup will be appointed for further examination and research.

The academies nominate the experts who will do the actual job of producing the facts.

And the decision makers appear to accept the results. A report from the EASAC, that Christina Moberg is certain had an impact, was about a group of pesticides harmful to bumblebees, which are crucial for pollination and biological diversity.

- There are three things that are essential for our work to have an impact. We are independent and are not controlled by any special interests. Second, relevance: we look at what is important to the decision makers. The third is credibility: we account for uncertainties and different views, says Christina Moberg, who also emphasizes the importance of different forms of communication to spread the scientific results.

Five networks of over 100 academies

Five years ago, the European Commission formed SAM (The Scientific Advice Mechanism). Through this, the Commission can ask European academies for assistance with the scientific basis for future political decisions.

SAM consists of two parts. One is a group of seven independent chief advisors directly tied to the Commission. They have the ultimate advisory responsibility. The other part is the Scientific Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), an EU-organization with offices in Brussels.

New projects can be initiated by the European Commission or by the chief advisors who cooperate closely with SAPEA. SAPEA compiles scientific facts on the subject, and the chief advisors formulate advice based on this.

The board of SAPEA consists of Chairmen from five European networks of academies. Euro-CASE is represented by Tuula Teeri, and EASAC by Christina Moberg.

The five academic networks are:

In total, around 100 academies are part of the five networks that SAPEA, and the seven chief advisors can ask for assistance. Commissioners from the networks form working groups that produce scientific facts before the seven chief advisors formulate their advice to the European Commission.