The EGU sponsors an annual science-policy pairing scheme each year to help promote a culture of evidence-informed policymaking and encourage stronger science-policy partnerships! The EGU’s 2020/21 pairing scheme was slightly different from normal, being run virtually rather than in person as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. This month’s GeoPolicy blog post is written by Renée Bichler, this year’s selected pairing scheme participant, a current PhD candidate at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in the field of air pollution monitoring, and further a research assistant for atmospheric remote sensing at the University of Augsburg.
I was introduced to the EGU’s science-policy pairing scheme through social media. An EGU Twitter post about working for one week at the EU Parliament grabbed my attention because I was always interested in opportunities that allowed me to work closer together with politicians. I saw this as a great chance to broaden my understanding about the European political system and to explore ways to contribute as a scientist. I applied hoping that my background in Earth Observation and atmospheric monitoring would add value to the MEPs team.
Weeks into the application process, I was thrilled to learn that I had been shortlisted. However, at this time, COVID-19 was causing lockdown restrictions across Europe and I wondered if the entire activity would get postponed. Fortunately, I received a very kind email in late December from EGU policy officer Chloe Hill that I was selected for the virtual version of the pairing scheme. I was very excited at this great start into 2021!
Jumping straight in!
Only 10 days had gone by that I had already found myself in a first meeting with Member of the European Parliament Maria Spyraki’s Team. Maria Spyraki is affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP Group – Christian Democrats). This is, alongside the six other groups, the biggest and oldest group in the EU Parliament. All MEPs are elected locally by the voters of their states, in this case Greece. The MEPs have the task of serving the local people’s interests on legislative and policy issues at the European level.
Ms. Spyraki is the vice-chair of the Delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China, a member of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, and as well a member of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer. Furthermore, Ms. Spyraki is a substitute of the Committee on Regional Development , and the Delegation to the EU-North Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee.
As part of the virtual science-policy pairing scheme, I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Spyraki in person as well as have several online meetings with her team. My first impressions were very positive. Everybody was kind and helpful. I always got immediate responses to the questions I raised, and I had the impression that everyone in the team really likes their job.
During the pairing scheme, I attended committee meetings, plenary sessions, and an event hosted by Maria Spyraki herself. The diversity of topics in their workflow stood out to me right from the beginning of the pairing scheme. For instance, the first committee meeting that I attended was about beating cancer and just some days later Ms. Spyraki hosted an event titled “Sustainable Mobility – Powering Climate Action.” At this event, Ms. Spyraki spoke about the importance of reducing emissions produced by transport, as well as the role of hydrogen and batteries for electric vehicles. I was impressed.
Following the event, I got hands-on experience in dealing with all these topical issues when Ms. Spyraki and her team forwarded me questions that they had received from a journalist. Along with these questions, her team sent me helpful advice on how to draft and deliver an answer. The questions were mainly about the EU Green Deal, environmental goals and issues, and the Greek economy. I quickly realised that while I knew, for instance, the general facts about the EU Green Deal and the basics of economics, I’d never thought about it in the way the journalist had inquired. After a while, I decided to contact the team to discuss my struggles with this task, as it was beyond my realm of expertise. I was afraid of disappointing them and this bothered me. However, I got great feedback in the end and felt okay to not have immediate answers for every topic under discussion.
Advice to future candidates
At this point, I would like to reach out to the next science-policy pairing scheme candidate or anyone else who experiences similar situations and encourage them to participate in activities that involve experts from different fields. First, don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t have the answer. There will always be a topic that you know nothing about. Keep in mind that you have knowledge about other things, and you can work from there. Second, during your career as a scientist, it is important to create a diverse network that can introduce you new perspectives about topics you have not thought about yet. And third, I would like to offer my help. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for questions about the policy scheme, application process or guidance. I will provide my contact information at the end of the blog post.
Key takeaways from the pairing scheme
To sum up, the science-policy pairing scheme gave me the opportunity to experience a different world than the one I’m familiar with at the moment. I think all the lessons learned during the two weeks made me truly understand how complex, challenging, and diverse the work can be at the EU Parliament. Agendas can change quickly depending on the latest developments in the world. Furthermore, the pairing scheme gave me a better understanding of how the system works. For instance, what are the tasks of committee meetings, how are the topics for the plenary sessions determined, what does a plenary session look like, and how do MEPs vote. Also, since I was – in a certain way – part of it for two weeks and had the opportunity to meet people there at first hand, I will watch the committee meetings, plenary sessions and other discussions at the EU Parliament with different eyes.
What I personally take away from the pairing scheme is how important the work at EU Parliament is. What I can experience in my research on air pollution on a daily basis is how effective political measures can help reduce emissions in our atmosphere and further create a cleaner and healthier world for us all. We must understand that we are all part of the same team. Together we can find the answers we are looking for and make the right decisions for a brighter future. I am glad that I got the opportunity to participate in the virtual science-policy pairing scheme and I can highly recommend it. My advice to everybody who is interested in it is, be brave and curious! Give it a try and apply!
LinkedIn contact: Renée Bichler
Twitter contact: @ReneeBichler
- The #vEGU21 recording of the science-policy pairing scheme panel discussion
- Information about committee meetings and their agendas
- Information about plenary sessions
- Air Pollution and COVID-19, a research study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety:
- The European Commission Joint Research Centre’s Science for Policy Handbook