Conflicts of Interest Issues Continue for European Agencies

Intended as a measure of post-spending oversight, the European Parliament must formally discharge the budgets for EU agencies after the completion of the fiscal year, an audit of the books and finalization of accounts.

(Note for European readers – feel free to skip the rest of this post, as it will may well be old hat/old news.  As always, feel free to point out errors and/or misunderstandings.)

The European Parliament is currently reviewing budgets for the fiscal year 2010.  It voted to postpone the discharge of three agencies (H/T ScienceInsider), each of which has a scientific component.  The agencies at issue are the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Environment Agency (EEA), and in a repeat performance, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The specific points of concern vary, but there is a common theme – conflicts of interest.  That issue has dogged the EMA since before the 2009 discharge was postponed, and it seems unlikely to ease any time soon.  Aside from the investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office, the agency’s top official couldn’t revolve the door fast enough to a lobby shop, and started his own consultancy *prior* to leaving the agency.  It is a similar case of a quick revolving door from the EFSA to regulated agencies, with the added benefit of agency members holding outside positions while serving.  The EEA also appears to have made funding decisions that directly benefited the employer of one of its board members.

Sadly, this is not a case of having no conflict of interest rules, but of apparently not paying them much mind.  Both the EFSA and EMA have asserted they have not run afoul of their rules.

It’s the blatant disregard for bias (or the appearance of same) that is particularly disappointing.  It certainly doesn’t help people making the argument for additional scientific and technological advice in government.  If the new European Union Chief Scientific Adviser is looking for projects, I would heartily recommend she engage with this issue and the apparent disregard of scientific agencies toward bias and conflicts.  I recommend it whether or not she’s looking for projects.

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