EFSA Management Board looks at key issues

Further progress has been made on the development of the European Food Safety Authority, following the latest meeting of its Management Board yesterday. The main issues discussed were the permanent location for the Authority; the budget; the selection of experts to provide the scientific opinions of the Authority; the rules for operation of its Advisory Forum, and; prevention of fraud and corruption.

We made some important progress at the meeting,’ said Stuart Slorach, Chairman of the Board. It was disappointing that the Danish Presidency did not consider the issue of the permanent location for EFSA. We will urge the Greek Presidency to give this matter high priority. We hope that, under Greek leadership, the Council will take its responsibility and reach a decision, since, if it does not, the issue may well become further complicated by the EU enlargement process.

With respect the Authority’s budget, the Management Board also considered the next steps to be taken to try to free the €8,249,252 held in reserve by the European Parliament budgetary committee, pending a decision on the seat. Dr Slorach will send a letter to the Parliament clarifying the very serious consequences of withholding the funds. These include a slowing down of staff recruitment and delays in making EFSA’s Scientific Committee and panels fully operational. Unless the remainder of the budget for 2003 is freed soon, it will be impossible to meet the high expectations that consumers and others have on the Authority.

The Board noted that the call for expression of interest in membership of the Authority’s Scientific Committee and panels had been published on the day of the meeting, with a closing date of 14th March. Following a rigorous and transparent evaluation procedure, Geoffrey Podger, the Executive Director, will propose the members selected to the Board on 29th April for their approval. This will enable the Authority’s risk assessment programme to begin soon after; thus rendering it scientifically operational.

Operation of the planned Advisory Forum, composed of Member State representatives, was discussed extensively. It was stressed that the effective functioning of this body is vital to the success of the Authority, as it will sit right at the heart of the network that is being set up to improve food safety in the EU. Membership, independence, responsibilities, openness, and other issues were put under close scrutiny, prior to making a decision on the most appropriate operating principles to serve the European public interest.

Finally, the rules relating to prevention of fraud and corruption were discussed. It was emphasised that the Authority should comply fully with Community policy in this area.