The European Science Advisors Forum (ESAF) is an independent platform of European science-based strategic advisors that promotes and facilitates the use of evidence-based science. ESAF is committed to sharing relevant information, enhancing the exchange of best practices and building sustainable capacity and capability across a range of different national science advisory organizations and systems in Europe.
The focus for ESAF is science for policy and not policy for science, in the belief that an accurate, unbiased synthesis of the available evidence is one of the most valuable contributions a research community can offer democratic decision-makers. Science-for-policy advice is a common need in evidence-based policymaking, and scientific expertise and evidence play a significant role in preparing policy decisions.
The variety of structures and institutions for science-based strategic advice across different national governments is of great value for ESAF. The members have a lot to gain from exchanging information, expertise, practices and results. ESAF provides a platform to broaden the access to existing work. ESAF has no formal advisory role collectively, but by sharing information, expertise and practices, members can individually contribute feedback on advisory outputs of other ESAF member countries and also on outputs of the Scientific Advice Mechanism of the European Commission (SAM).
ESAF was set up as a Europe-wide network of government science advisors in June 2014 by Professor Anne Glover, then Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. ESAF was intended to allow European and national science advisors to discuss the scientific evidence on topics of pan-European relevance ahead of political decisions by national governments, to share best practices and to promote evidence-informed policymaking in the EU.
In 2016, the Commission wrote to the member states to explore the possibility of re-establishing the Forum, which had become inactive. The Scientific Advice Mechanism , which had succeeded the CSA for providing science advice to the Commission, organised a second meeting for ESAF in Manchester. Following this renewed interest in an active informal network of science advisors, the third ESAF meeting in Amsterdam in 2017 agreed on the structure and organisation of the Forum and published its Terms of Reference. According to these, ESAF is an independent, informal network of European science-based strategic advisors. The network is driven and operated by its members.
ESAF and SAM
ESAF is independent from the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism, and its Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. SAM supports the EU Commission with high-quality, timely and independent scientific advice, whereas ESAF was set up by its members to facilitate the exchange of and access to knowledge with a view to sharing best practice for informing science-based advice. Although independent, both share a vision of extending and enhancing the quality of science advice throughout Europe and, as such, have agreed to explore opportunities for mutual benefit.
The Head of unit of SAM, Gilles Laroche, is an associate member of ESAF. Members of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors are invited to attend ESAF meetings. Members of ESAF are invited to provide feedback on existing and future reports of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors and to participate in stakeholder meetings. ESAF and SAM continuously explore possible synergies and strengthened interaction in areas of science advice.
Membership is currently based on country representation, however members do not formally represent their country. Members have to be in a formal and active position to provide science-based strategic advice to their democratic governments. Members of ESAF are nominated by EU-member governments at the request of the European Commission. Members can have an alternate represent their country at ESAF meetings. ESAF membership is open to non-EU countries that are associated countries of the European Research Area. ESAF members decide on admission of a non-EU member country to ESAF membership.
Structure and organisation
ESAF meets at least once a year with the host country rotating. In consultation with the coordinating country, members can bring a national delegation of max. four people to the annual ESAF meeting. Decisions on the composition of a national delegation rest with the formal ESAF representative or its alternate. The coordinating country decides on participation of other guests at an ESAF meeting. Decisions on ESAF membership as well as other issues are made by majority of votes. Each country can cast one vote.
Coordination and the secretariat are provided by an ESAF member country for a period of three years. It is the responsibility of the coordinating country and the secretariat to prepare the agenda of the meeting in close consultation with the host country and other members, to write the meeting minutes and to manage the ESAF website. Estonia is the coordinating country of ESAF for the June 2020 – June 2023 period and provides the secretariat.