MEPs need access to the best information in order to make informed decisions about issues ranging from climate change to public health and data protection. We invited MEPs, and members of the research community who regularly engage with them, to discuss what scientific evidence MEPs need, how they access it, and what the research community do to support them.
Law-making in the European Union institutions is made up of many different players, from the European Commission, to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are a vital cog in this machine. Following the May elections, a new set of Parliamentarians are in place and organisations large and small are knocking on their doors to raise issues. But are there enough scientists among them?
Do your homework
The message driven home by those MEPs speaking at the event, Vicky Ford and Catherine Bearder, was to be strategic: do your homework and pick your audience. In other words, rather than a scattergun approach, organisations need to select which MEPS might be interested in their issues and in a position to champion them effectively. This might include Committee Chairs and rapporteurs on specific Directives.
Organisations also need to think about their message – ensuring it is clear, relevant, timely and easy to understand. The European Parliament is composed of 751 MEPs, representing 28 member states. Language is not a barrier to engagement, but with hundreds of emails in their inbox, multiple committee meetings, and constituency work, MEPs are more likely to pick up on issues which reflect their particular interest area – issues which are reflected in their speeches, campaigns, constituency issues and political beliefs – and where they can clearly see how they can take action.
“Show us the science”
Drawing on her own experience of visiting the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge which is within her constituency, Vicky Ford discussed how this allowed her to see science in action, at an organisational level, and better understand the issues where she could have an impact. Scientists engaging with their local parliamentarians is really powerful – the Royal Society currently runs a pairing scheme between UK parliamentarians and civil servants and scientists, and similar schemes are being trialled in Europe.
Work with others
As a pan-European body, the European Parliament makes decisions impacting all over the European Union. Therefore, if we want to be heard, it’s not enough for the UK research community to only engage with UK MEPs, especially as they do not make up a majority en bloc. Working with pan-European networks is vital in getting your message across.
These messages were echoed by those speakers representing organisations who engage with MEPs from the research community. Layla Theiner, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at Cancer Research UK, emphasised the importance of having a strong and clear message, the need to be persistent, and to engage with not just MEPs but European Union legislators at all levels, including the Commission and the Council. Tony Mayer from grass-roots organisation EuroScience stressed the need for a mix in output, for example briefings and events in addition to meetings.
All of this can have results. Whilst they are one part of the wider legislative machine, typically over half of MEPs’ amendments find their way into final legislation, compared with less than 2% for backbench Members of Parliament in Westminster.
This PolicyLab has given the research community a lot to think about. Yes, a lot of work as well, but done smartly, providing scientific evidence to the European policy making machine can pay off.