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New Science Body to Advise European Commission President

The European Commission has set up a science advisory body that will report directly to its president, José Manuel Barroso.

The Science and Technology Advisory Council will identify areas where research and innovation can contribute to Europe's growth—with a particular focus on benefits and risks of science and technology advances and how to communicate these. The group, similar to one advising President Barack Obama in the United States, held its first meeting in Brussels today. It is made up of 15 members drawn mostly from academia, including Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, an influential climate scientist from Germany; French mathematician Cédric Villani, who was a Fields medalist in 2010; and Israeli crystallographer Ada Yonath, who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2009.

The council's creation follows Barroso's appointment of the European Commission's first chief scientific adviser, Scottish microbiologist Anne Glover, who started in January last year. Glover will chair the new body's meetings, to be held three or four times a year, although the council will report directly to Barroso. The group will not produce detailed reports on specific topics, a Glover aide tells ScienceInsider, adding that "the idea is to look at the big picture and advise the president on how to stimulate societal debates about science."

The new council shows a will from the commission's top management to "create a working group around Glover, without overshadowing her," says physicist Jerzy Langer, who served as a deputy science minister in Poland and with several major European advisory bodies. This would help Glover in her "mission to bridge science and high-level politics in the E.U.," he adds.

Peter Tindemans, secretary general of the researchers' organization Euroscience, agrees that it is useful for Glover and Barroso to surround themselves with scientific experts. However, he adds that another priority is for Glover to build up a network of national chief science advisers. "The convincing needs to be done at the national level," Tindemans says, alluding to the example of developing genetically modified crops, which Glover explicitly supports, despite opposition from several European governments.

Only three E.U. countries (the Czech Republic, Ireland, and the United Kingdom) have chief science advisers, but Glover is pushing other governments to create similar posts and says a network could be in place by the end of the year.