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GeoPolicy: What science policy & the European Union mean to EGU members

GeoPolicy: What science policy & the European Union mean to EGU members

Since joining the EGU over a month ago as the Union’s Policy Fellow, Sarah Connors, has been hard at work getting to grips with the political landscape of the European Union and the role Earth scientists and EGU members at large can play in policy making. This is post the first of the new GeoPolicy Column. During her one year term Sarah will regularly contribute content to GeoLog on all things policy related. The column will also feature guest authors from academia and policy. Keep an eye out for future GeoPolicy posts if this is an area you are interested in.

‘Policy’ is defined as a plan of action developed to assist in achieving a desired outcome. Unions, governments, organisations and companies all create policies to help them achieve certain goals. Science policy can refer to one of two things. The first, known as ‘policy for science’, is the development of policies to aid scientific discovery and innovation. An example of this is the structuring of scientific funding budgets. Conversely, ‘science for policy’ involves applying scientific knowledge to the decision-making process to strengthen the resulting policies. It’s the latter form of science policy that the EGU is currently developing (a new Science Policy section is coming to the website next week).

So what does this mean for EGU members?

To understand this, we need to identify how EGU science can help the policy making process, and to do this, we need to know how policy is drafted. As EGU is a European organisation our targeted policies operate on a European level. This blog goes on to describe the broad structure of the European Union and the processes that are involved in creating its policy.

The European Union (EU)

The EU is made up of 28 countries (member states) and structured into seven different institutions, some of which are quite cryptically named:

  • The European Parliament (EP) – has democratic control over the other six EU institutions via the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). It is in charge of the EU budget and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU.
  • The European Council – comprises the heads of government from each of the 28 member states, and provides general objectives and priorities for the EU to focus on.
  • The Council of the EU – also referred to as ‘the Council of Ministers’ or just ‘Council’. It shares legislative powers with the EP and is made up of 28 ministers. Meetings are divided into specific council configurations which deal with different legislative areas. Formations include General Affairs, Agriculture & Fishers, and Environment, for example. Different ministers from each member state are sent for each council configuration.
  • The European Commission (EC) – proposes and drafts new legislation which is monitored and edited by the EP. It administers the EU budget and ensures compliance with EU law. The Commission is made up of many departments (called Directorates-Generals), services, agencies and bodies, which research and develop policies surrounding the EC’s priority areas.
  • The Court of Justice of the EU – implements EU law and determines legal disputes between member states, EU institutions and other bodies.
  • European Court of Auditors – audits the EU.
  • The European Central Bank – determines monetary policies.
 Political System of the European Union . Credit: Tatiana Feskova (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

Political System of the European Union . Credit: Tatiana Feskova (distributed via Wikimedia Commons )

Drafting Policy

The drafting of major EU legislation is a complicated and often lengthy process. The video below clearly explains this process (much better than I can!). A specific example is used to highlight the timeframe involved. Please note that the video is a little out of date as it mentions only 27 member states (since the video was released Croatia has joined the EU).

(Making EU Law – The EU Legislation Tracker Infographic: Six Pack , courtesy of The Institute of International and European Affairs, from YouTube)

There is a simpler process (well explained here), for less substantial legislation, in which the Council of the EU is not involved with the editing process.

Policies are drafted before and after legislative frameworks are in place. The preparation of ‘Impact Assessments‘ which set out the advantages and disadvantages of possible policy options are used to structure initial legislation. Additional policies, drafted after legislation approval, can ensure goals are achieved. For example, green incentive policies, such as tax reductions for companies which use renewable energy, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; which legalisation following the UN’s Kyoto protocol demands.

EGU Science in the EU

The two major institutions within the EU that focus on the policy-making process are the European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP).

EGU science is relevant for many different sections within these institutions. The Departments of the EC relevant to EGU science include Energy, Environment, Climate, Agriculture, and Research & Innovation to name but a few! All departments have opportunities to use evidence and scientific expertise during their policy-making process. In addition to this, the EC also has the ‘Joint Research Centre’ which funds in-house and external science to aid policy. Scientists can get involved with this process by answering the EC’s Calls for Tender and by signing up to their Database of Experts. The European Parliament has similar initiatives organised by their ‘Science and Technology Options Assessment’ (STOA) and the ‘European Parliamentary Research Service’ (EPRS) departments. Note that scientific advice can also be used in the EU’s legislative process during the ‘civil society’ stage mentioned in the above video.

My role as the EGU’s Science Policy Fellow is to highlight the opportunities for both policy workers and scientists to get involved with science policy, as well as to inform those who may not be aware of this process’ importance. Part of my job will involve regular science policy columns on GeoLog, highlighting the latest discussions and events occurring involving EGU science in the EU. So keep an eye out on GeoLog and the EGU website for lots more to come!

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Sarah Connors is Science Officer in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 Technical Support Unit (and former EGU Science Policy Officer). Her PhD thesis was in atmospheric chemistry where she researched into UK methane emissions. Sarah tweets at @connorsSL.

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