Where to find chemistry in Brussels
As you already know, chemists are academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, but do they have anything to do with politics, namely Brussels´ politics?
First things first – what is Politics?
Simply put, politics is the way the members of a community are organised, it sets priorities in the use of available resources, it sets the rules needed for common living, and creates a vision of what tomorrow should be. This community, has considerably grown from the ancient Greek cities (Polis, in ancient Greek, from which the term politics derives) into bigger political unities, with many different systems of political organisation. Today we see the beginning of a European citizenship based on the European Union, with a community of more than 500 million citizens. The political action within this community is visible in policy-making from laws to funding, from statements of purpose to awards, among many other.
How does the European Union work?
Every five years, EU citizens elect national Members for the European Parliament. At the same time, each country of the EU, nominates a Commissioner to the European Commission college of commissioners, currently presided over by Jean-Claude Juncker. Each Commissioner will oversee one of the EU areas such as Research, Health, Education, Finances and so on. Each commissioner oversees and sets the main policy lines for one or more departments of the European Commission, the so-called Directorate-Generals (DGs). Another main institutional actor is the Council (also known as the Council of the European Union, or Council of Ministers). The Council is the institution where national governments are represented from the most technical level to the higher political level.
Creating laws is one of the important tasks of the EU that has clear implications on our everyday lives. The Commission has the power to draft legislative proposals following requests from the Parliament or the Council. Once a proposal is presented it must be sent for approval, amendments, or refusal to both the Council and the Parliament. A proposal will only become actual law after the approval from both the Parliament and the Council. European Union legislation can be automatically transposed, in the case of Regulations, or it can provide a legislative framework, a Directive, that must be transposed into the national law by each country.
Where are the chemists, and chemistry, in Brussels?
At this point I have to admit that the title is misleading. Even though Brussels is somehow the capital of the European Union, and the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council are in Brussels, they are also elsewhere. The Parliament has its plenary sessions in Strasbourg and the Commission has some departments in Luxembourg. Moreover, there are many EU Agencies, such as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), or the agency responsible for overseeing research funding, the Research Executive Agency (REA), which are autonomous bodies with specific mandates and distributed across Europe.
Commission and Agencies – Chemistry informs several services of the Commission, ranging from Research and Innovation, Agriculture, Education, Energy, Climate, and many others. When making laws, scientific expertise is a must-have to ensure, for instance, that a certain chemical is safe to use, in which quantities, how to measure it, and how to properly formulate all of this in writing. In producing concrete legislation, the Commission uses its own internal experts which can be found in every Directorate-General. The European Commission even has a DG concerned with science and knowledge, the Joint Research Centre, where many chemists work to create research tools, databases, publications, or reference materials. Apart from its internal expertise the Commission and its agencies also uses external expertise groups for monitoring programmes and to create reports and opinions which are then used to draft law-proposals. EuCheMS nominated chemists take part, for instance, in the work of the ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, which is responsible for the approval of Chemicals in the EU. There are also high-level expert groups providing broader political input to the Commission such as the Scientific Advice Mechanism, or the Open Science Policy Platform, in which EuCheMS has a representative. To gather input from as many stakeholders as possible, the Commission also regularly launches consultations which serve as a basis to evaluate an existing policy and to amend it or to create a new one. EuCheMS, as well as other chemistry related associations or even individual chemists, can also take part in these consultations.
Council – At the Council, chemists from Member States provide expertise when evaluating and amending chemistry-relevant legislation proposals from the Commission, namely by participating in the Commission expert groups specially setup for national experts. Note that the Council should not be mistaken with the European Council, which is the high political level meeting of the European heads of Government and State. Nonetheless chemists are also present there, as, for instance, the Chancellor Angela Merkel who holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry.
Members of European Parliament (MEPs), chemists or not, are fundamental in showing the role of chemistry for society and in making sure that sound scientific knowledge goes into policy-action
European Parliament – In the European Parliament chemistry is present, firstly, in elected Members who have, proudly if I may add, studied and worked on this field. These knowledgeable parliamentarians are essential as they are particularly aware of the importance of science in our everyday lives and tend to dislike listening to demagogic unscientific narratives. Members of European Parliament (MEPs), chemists or not, are fundamental in showing the role of chemistry for society and in making sure that sound scientific knowledge goes into policy-action. EuCheMS follows several Parliament Committees, namely ENVI (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) and ITRE (Industry, Research and Energy). EuCheMS also closely follows and collaborates with STOA, the Science and Technology Options Assessment, a panel composed by several MEPs who analyse opportunities and risks of new scientific possibilities. EuCheMS regularly collaborates with MEPs either in co-organising policy workshops or in providing legislative amendments. EuCheMS is also involved in the MEP-Scientist Pairing scheme, where closer collaborations between MEPs and scientists are promoted. Chemistry is also present in the work of the European Parliament through the Parliament´s internal research services, which regularly publishes reports and assists MEPs on scientific matters.
Sustainable agriculture, access to quality water, addressing global warming, providing healthier lives, or creating cleaner energy are some of challenges that our global Polis is facing and to which we must respond together. Chemists are particularly knowledgeable citizens who have a political responsibility to participate in society not only by teaching, researching, creating new products and jobs, but also by providing input to regulations and monitoring politics, all these while making sure that our global societal challenges are effectively addressed. So, to my initial question where to find chemistry in Brussels? the answer seems quite clear – everywhere and EuCheMS is in its centre.
EuCheMS Public Affairs Officer