From left to right: David King, Rianne Letscher, and António Vitorino.

From left to right: David King, Rianne Letscher, and António Vitorino.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Ben Bergman/KNAW; Jacques Delors Institute

European Commission tasks scouts to find suitable science advisers

The European Commission has asked a trio of scouts to help fill the void left by the former Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), a role that the commission controversially removed from its organigram when it took office in November. The three will be tasked with finding suitable scientists for a seven-strong “high level group” of advisers, one of the key elements of the commission's new science advice system.

Research commissioner Carlos Moedas will formally announce their names on Monday and meet them for lunch. The trio consists of David King, a chemist and a former British CSA; Rianne Letschert, a law professor at the International Victimology Institute Tilburg in the Netherlands; and António Vitorino, the president of the Jacques Delors Institute, a European policy think tank.

“The identification committee strikes me as sensibly balanced,” but its job will not be easy, says James Wilsdon, a science policy specialist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. The committee will have to find the “right mix” of people who will “between them need to reflect Europe's geographical and disciplinary diversity, command the respect of their peers, and be skilled in navigating the often treacherous terrain that lies between science, policy and politics,” Wilsdon tells ScienceInsider in an email.

When the European CSA role disappeared last year, many scientists voiced their disapproval—in particular in the United Kingdom, one of few countries in the European Union that has a CSA role at the national level. King, widely seen as a policy heavyweight, advised his government between 2000 and 2007 and now serves as the foreign secretary's special representative for climate change; his participation may help placate lingering anger in Britain, and lends the commission's enterprise added credibility.

Letschert chairs The Young Academy, a group of 50 scientists and scholars aged between 25 and 45 who formulate advice to their country's ministries. (Set up in 2005, The Young Academy is a separate branch of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.) As such, she represents a different advice model, in which national governments rely on learned societies and other advisory bodies, rather than on a single scientist. She will also bring “a valuable perspective from the next generation of researchers,” as Wilsdon puts it.

Vitorino, meanwhile, brings experience in the often arcane world of E.U. policy and politics; he is a former European commissioner for justice and internal affairs and a former deputy prime minister in his home country, Portugal. (Commissioner Moedas is also from Portugal but the two come from different political parties.)

The panel will help define selection criteria for members of the science advice group and will come up with a list of candidates; its methodology is to be published in the next 2 weeks. The commission aims to have the group up and running by early October, a spokesperson says.