Independence is one of EFSA’s key values. The Authority is committed to safeguarding the independence of its experts, methods and data from any undue external influence and to ensuring that it has the necessary mechanisms in place to achieve this.
The central pillar of EFSA’s independence is its Management Board, itself an independent body whose members are appointed by the Council of the European Union and who are required to act in the public interest. More information here.
In addition, the Authority applies a robust set of measures and working practices to safeguard the independence of its scientific work and avoid conflicts of interest. These are all brought together and explained in EFSA’s independence policy, which was reviewed in June 2017. The current policy remains in force until new implementing rules have been approved for the revised policy.
Good risk assessment practices
EFSA has developed a comprehensive body of good risk assessment practices to guide the work of its Scientific Committee and panels. EFSA’s Scientific Committee has also adopted a set of recommendations on transparency in risk assessment to ensure maximum transparency of its work.
All the final scientific opinions adopted by the Scientific Committee and scientific panels are the outcome of collective deliberations and decisions, with each member having an equal say. No single expert can unduly influence the decisions of the panel, and minority views are recorded. More information here.
Selection of scientific experts
Members of the Scientific Committee, scientific panels and their working groups, as well as other external experts contributing to the work of EFSA, are selected according to their scientific competence and expertise using objective, transparent criteria. During the selection process, interests declared by applicants are scrutinised to ensure the prevention of conflicts of interest (see below).
In addition, independent external evaluators review the assessment of applications for scientific panel membership to ensure that the selection process is coherent. More information here.
Declarations of interest
All experts of the Scientific Committee, scientific panels and working groups are required to sign a declaration of commitment, including a commitment to act independently, and to provide an annual declaration of interests (ADoI) for each EFSA group of which they are a member. All of the ADoIs are published on the EFSA website.
An ADoI contains details of current activities and those completed in the last five years in the following categories:
- Economic interests, including shares and other financial investments.
- Membership of a managing entity or equivalent.
- Occasional consultancy.
- Membership of a scientific advisory entity.
- Research funding.
- Intellectual property rights.
- Other membership or affiliation.
- Other relevant interests.
Experts are also required to declare in advance their specific interests for each agenda point of a meeting in writing, through a specific declaration of interests (SDoI), and any additional interests orally at the beginning of the meeting.
Preventing conflicts of interest
EFSA systematically screens the information provided by an expert in the DoI and assesses whether a declared interest constitutes a conflict. For ADoIs, the process is coordinated and validated by EFSA’s Legal and Assurance Services.
EFSA recognises that high quality scientific expertise is by definition based on prior experience. Moreover, having an interest does not necessarily imply that there is a conflict of interest. The criteria used by EFSA until 30 June 2018 to screen DoIs are set out in the rules on declarations of interest. As of 1 July 2018, EFSA will implement the new approach set out in its decision on competing interest management.
The evaluation of the DoI takes into account the interests declared by the expert in relation to the mandate of the group in question.
Based on the evaluation, EFSA decides whether or not the person is allowed to participate in the relevant scientific group and, if they are, in what role (for example as chair, vice-chair or member of a scientific panel or working group). In addition to this screening, EFSA regularly reviews a representative sample of the ADoIs to monitor for completeness and coherence with EFSA’s rules.
In June 2017, EFSA’s Management Board adopted a new policy on independence, which enhances the previous approach by including a number of additional safeguards. The revised policy now features:
- A new definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest, which brings EFSA into line with the most recent rules adopted by the European Commission for its expert committees.
- A comprehensive set of “cooling-off” rules: external experts will be automatically barred from joining EFSA’s scientific panels if in the preceding two years they have been employed by, acted as consultants to, or have offered scientific advice to organisations that work in areas covered by EFSA’s remit. The cooling-off periods also apply to experts who have received research funding (exceeding 25% of the total funding for the research) from such organisations.
- A requirement that experts declare the proportion of their annual earnings received from any organisation, body or company whose activities fall within EFSA’s areas of work. This information will be published and used as part of the DoI assessment.
- Publication of the list of EFSA’s “institutional fellows”, such as national and international authorities, universities or research institutes.
- Member State experts who take part in peer review meetings will be subject to the same scrutiny and transparency measures applicable to panel experts.
EFSA will develop rules to implement these new measures by the end of 2017.
EFSA staff act in the public interest and are subject to several obligations under EU staff regulations, including that of acting with independence and integrity and of avoiding conflicts of interest. EFSA requires staff to fill out an ADoI and ensures that staff members are not assigned to projects where potential conflicts of interests have been identified. The ADoIs of EFSA’s senior managers are published online.
- EFSA’s Policy on Independence (2017)
- Policy on Independence and Scientific Decision-Making Processes
- Decision of the Executive Director concerning the selection of members of the Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and external experts
- Establishment and operations of the Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and of their Working Groups
- Independent report on implementation of DOI policy on EFSA’s Scientific Panels