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Final remarks: TA bridging national and European debates

As technological developments have the potential to have large impacts on societies, it is very important that they are democratically debated both by parliaments and, more broadly, within society to ensure that their implications are fully understood and evaluated. This is the task of TA, and during the Parliamentary TA debates participants have repeatedly stated the importance of TA to improve the relationship between parliaments and science, but also the difficulties in maintaining TA activities and disseminating this approach throughout Europe. As stated by António Correia de Campos, former member of the European Parliament and chairman of the STOA Panel, 'a good understanding of the interactions between science and society is increasingly important for policy-making in order to mitigate risks, to avoid gaps in regulation, and to increase social welfare, making the most out of future opportunities'.

With the exception of STOA, TA activities are rooted within national contexts: TA or TA-like institutions are supported by local or national agencies, and their outputs are expected to contribute to policy making mainly at the national level. However, scientific and technological developments are driven by global forces, and they have implications beyond national borders. In that respect, TA should be able to create and operate in an environment that takes into consideration both the national (cultural, social and historical) and the European contexts, striking a balance between the skills and strategic needs of individual countries and of the European Union. This is a challenge for TA, but it can also be viewed as a chance. In the case of countries which are currently considering the establishment of a TA unit but face budgetary constraints, the fact that parliamentarians have to deal with similar issues as their colleagues in other countries offers opportunities for resource-effective ways of collaboration. It is also a way to incorporate the global dimension of science and technology in the policy advice of TA. The three crossEuropean projects organized within the PACITA project, for instance, were designed so as a same issue would be addressed in the same way by several national partners. This clearly reduced the costs for the involved partners, but it also contributed to further opening up to supranational concerns and differences among national policies.

In addition to very concrete advisory activities such as the cross-European projects, many other activities could benefit from cross-border fertilization. The Parliamentary TA Debates, for instance, were a unique opportunity for parliamentarians to meet their colleagues from other countries and compare and learn of certain issues discussed in other parts of Europe. Parliamentarians were fully aware of the relevance of bringing TA up to the European scale: in that respect, the creation of a European-wide networking structure (a kind of 'European TA association') would create the ground for the deployment and strengthening of TA across Europe, as several partners would have the opportunity to work together on a same issue and eventually influence European policy making while having specific activities targeted at the national politicians, experts, stakeholders or citizens. Such a network would also act as a capacity building platform, through conferences, thematic or methodological workshops or exchanges of TA staffers. Not only would this enhanced collaboration be effective in contributing to national and European policy making, but as PACITA proved, it would also foster TA skills across Europe that would support broad and long-term strategies for the development of science, technology and innovation.

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