Written by Doris Bogunović who shares regular blog posts with us on the role of the European institutions working on issues related to technology. She has a legal background, a keen interest in technology as well as experience with both the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Parliament.
The current discussion that Europe is led by technocrats might be somewhat unjustified, at least when it comes to the European Parliament. Members of the parliament are often not experts in certain areas and they work with consulting bodies to help them in the decision making and policy forming processes. The most usual way an MEP can keep himself informed is through a well set up team at his/her cabinet. Every MEP has an office staff usually comprised of permanent assistants, contractual agents and interns. Since every MEP is a member of different delegations, conferences, committees or sub-committees (in which he/she represents the interest of the Member State of his/her election), his/her staff is in charge of research on all of the topics the MEP is working on within the mentioned bodies. But where else do MEPs get their info when it comes to technology specifically? The answer is from a consulting body called STOA.
STOA, the European Parliament Office for Scientific and Technological Option Assessment was officially launched in March 1987. By 2003, the Office had its set of rules and today it serves the European Parliament (EP) on a permanent basis, carrying out the important task of providing independent and impartial information to the Parliament’s Committees and other parliamentary bodies, regarding science and technology – specifically, researching scientific and technological developments, opportunities, as well as their risks and implications.
STOA’s activities consist of conducting Technology Assessment and Scientific Foresight projects and by organising workshops, expert discussions and visits to scientific and technical institutions. Any EP Member or EP body may submit a proposal to the STOA Panel for STOA activities to be carried out.
There are 25 members of the STOA Panel appointed for a renewable two-and-a-half-year period by nine EP Committees:
- Committee on Industry, Research and Energy/AGRI
- Committee on Employment and Social Affairs/CULT
- Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety/EMPL
- Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection/ENVI
- Committee on Transport and Tourism/IMCO
- Committee on Agriculture/ITRE
- Committee on Legal Affairs/JURI
- Committee on Culture and Education/LIBE
- Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs/TRAN)
It’s envisioned they meet at least six times a year.
The thematic priority areas of STOA are eco-efficient transport and modern energy solutions, sustainable management of natural resources, potential and challenges of the internet, health and new technologies in the life sciences and science policy, communication and global networking.
The Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for STOA is a Spanish politician Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso. MEP Valcárcel Siso is a member of the EPP group (Christian Democrats). Not only an ardent supporter of digitalisation but also a quite down to Earth opponent of misogynists and hate speech, even when it comes to conservative forces.
Furthermore, STOA cooperates with other parliamentary bodies such as the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA). EPTA is a network of technology assessment (TA) institutions which was organised in 1990 to advise parliaments across Europe. Today, it has 13 full members, one of them being STOA. EPTA organises annual conferences and promotes cooperation between parliamentary bodies. EPTA members (individual institutions like STOA) are permanent consultants to the parliamentary bodies who are helping with the decision making process by carrying out technology assessment studies on behalf of parliaments.
EPTA’s goal is to ‘provide impartial and high quality accounts and reports of developments in issues such as for example bioethics and biotechnology, public health, environment and energy, ICTs, and R&D policy’. A good example of EPTA’s work is the Mobility Report from 2017 about mobility pricing in different countries and their future plans in tackling mobility issues submitted by ETSA members.
What do you think, is Europe full of technocrats? How does it work in your country? Should parliamentarians be specialists in certain areas or just well informed decision makers? How objective do you think is the information delivered to them? Are the reports they draft available to the public as well?