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Home arrow Sociology arrow Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities

The role of cross-European TA in European governance

The inadequacies of the national and regional levels of governance are well understood and lie at the heart of the motivation for the development of the European Union in the first place. The capacities needed to continuously modernize society's infrastructure through research and development have long surpassed the size of the purses of individual nations. Consequently, cooperation on the advancement of research was one of the very first issue areas where the logic of cooperation became clear to European member states. Likewise, the scale of the mechanisms needed to render innovation economically viable has outgrown national markets. This is why the common European market has been a central guiding star for Europe for more than a generation and the European Research Area has such a prominent position.

With the pooling of innovative resources and merging of markets, much of the regulatory ability of member states has also shifted to the European level. One the one hand, this has allowed Europe to build a global region protected by the most progressive environmental and social protections in the world. But on the other hand, along with global deregulation to enhance trade flow, this shift has contributed to a lock-in situation for member states where increased cooperation is often not an option but the only viable path. Single member states are at a great disadvantage in relation to globalized industries and financial actors able to move production and capital from one country to the next. Countries wishing to move environmental and social policy forward – tools that will likely prove crucial in addressing grand challenges – are often bound to negotiate such changes within the traditional framework of European decision making known as the 'community method'. This is the framework in which national executives gathered as the Council of Ministers set out policy goals, which are then fleshed out in regulatory proposals by the European Commission to be approved by the European Parliament and ultimately the Council itself.

Often cited democratic dilemmas and deficiencies of the community method have led to the formulation of alternative governance strategies. The European Commission, for instance, has increasingly made use of soft governance approaches to coordinate societal actors around common goals. We see this in the response of the Commission to the Lund Declaration in the Europe 2020 strategy. Here public-private partnerships and networking initiatives meant to stimulate self-governance within industry are combined with a focus on societally strategic research and innovation. A cross-cutting framework to structure the self-governance of actors that participate in these strategic exercises is emerging under the title 'responsible research and innovation' (RRI). Within this framework, participation in research and innovation activities funded or otherwise stimulated by the Commission will be dependent on the willingness to undertake self-governance measures to align R&I output with the needs of society. Such measures, whichever practical form they may take, shall enact the principles of inclusiveness, anticipation, reflexivity and responsiveness. The ideal embedded in these principles is those of a selfregulatory system of multiple societal actors able to converge on common goals through ongoing dialogue and mutual learning. To a very large extent, this ideal has always been shared by the technology assessment community. Whether TA has been reactive, proactive, 'constructive' or 'participatory', TA has always sought to embed upstream societal reflections in the real-world processes of science, technology and innovation policy, precisely to achieve outcomes that would be already well rounded and aligned with the needs and values of multiple societal actors. The only major point at which the TA project still stands out from the RRI framework – and the point around which the unique value TA may add to RRI crystalizes – is the practical and institutional commitment to retain and strengthen the embedding of such soft governance approaches in the institutions of representative democracy.

Cross-European TA – still in the sense of national policy-oriented TA bodies in all states collaborating at European level – may thus play a number of important roles in consolidating the ideas in modern European governance:

� The need to strengthen national parliaments in the EU is broadly acknowledged, but the structures to facilitate that change are lacking. Here, TA can play an important role by serving parliaments with knowledge, analysis and debate on EU developments in science, technology and innovation.

� The importance of the subsidiarity principle is greater than ever,

but adhering to it may produce locked decision-making situations

under the community method. Circumventing such dead ends

demands the creation of spaces for open explorative dialogue

across the EU, involving citizens, stakeholders and parliaments. TA

has longstanding traditions which make it an obvious player for

creating such cross-European analytical dialogue.

� Governments are forced to become more and more European,

while parliaments become increasingly national – some may even

say provincial. TA can build bridges for parliaments across Europe,

thereby enhancing the connection between parliamentary debates and European developments.

� The EU needs to get in contact with citizens and to support

the emergence of a true 'European public', but it faces a lack

of European identity. With national TA institutions in place, a

platform emerges with the legitimacy to engage and consult citizens

on the national level and connect the outcomes at the EU level –

which makes TA a potentially perfect partner for both the national

and the EU level governance.

� Cross-European TA collaboration can add to the smart

specialization aims by, on the one hand, facilitating the needed

discourse at the national level and, on the other hand, ensuring

that it is connected across Europe – allowing for a certain level of

coordination of the specialization.

� TA at the national level is an important factor for having a rich

analysis and conversation about the societal opportunities and

challenges stemming from science, technology and innovation.

Having TA institutionalized in all European states will provide

an opportunity for expanding that analysis and conversation to

the European level and creating much needed links between the

multiple levels of the European governance system.

The PACITA consortium has on the basis of these thoughts and the lessons of the PACITA project provided the TA Manifesto, which has gained support from more than 300 signatories. [1]

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  • [1] See pacitaproject.eu/ta-manifesto/.
 
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