Science in Europe

Hats off to the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) who were the only science organisation as far as I know to approach the political parties about their policies on science ahead of this week’s European elections.

And no, I am not just saying that because I happen to sit on CaSE’s Executive Committee.  There is just something to be admired about their dogged, campaigning approach to the issues and to calling policy-makers to account.  In an arena of debate which is so often bogged down in technocracy it is refreshing that some still manage to keep their eye on the big picture and on the simple messages that cut through the mire.

Early next week we shall know the composition of the new European parliament and here in the UK we – the research community – should treat it as an opportunity to address some of our historical weaknesses  in getting our message across in the EU.

The UK is a reluctant and slow learner when it comes to EU politics.  Compalints about the EU Clinical Trials Directive and its impact on clinical research rumble on to this day.  But at source is a restlessness that Government, science organisations, charities and the like switched on to what was happening late in the day during its consideration by EU institutions.

Nonetheless I do believe we have reasons to be optimistic about our ability to be heard going forwards.  The bioscience community’s work in relation to the revision of EU Directive 86/609 on the welfare and protection of animals used in scientific experiementation has been well- co-ordinated, responsible, professional and effective.  We must maintain that momentum when the Directive is picked up by returning and new MEPs in the autumn.

And I have been impressed by the very vocal commitment of science leaders such as Sir Leszek Borysiewicz – chief executive of the MRC – to the EU as an important stage for UK science and scientists in the future.

In my recent trips to Brussels I have come away with a sense that MEPs are no different to other legislators in their thirst for good information and briefing that they can act on, in being receptive to the arguments.  I suspect that at no time is this opportunity greater than at the start of a new parliament.

But – as we know from policy debate in the UK – the patient voice will be increasingly important in the years ahead.  There are already strong patient groups operating in the EU with which we have growing links, but they are understandably focused on particular conditions and diseases and have a massive agenda to cover already.

The case is stronger than ever before I believe to use this era of the European Parliament to build a European association or alliance of medical reserach charities, NGOs and patient groups whose focus is purely on ensuring that the patient voice is heard in the debate about research and science.  It is either that or approaching the next European elections ruminating on what could have been.

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