Parliaments and the assessment of scientific and technological choices

Doc. 7482

12 February 1996


Rapporteur: Mr BIRRAUX, France, Group of the European People's Party


    The increasing pace of scientific and technical progress is having considerable repercussions in all sectors of socio-economic life. Political leaders must anticipate and control these changes by assessing scientific and technological innovations. This is a vital process when it comes to choices which will determine the future of our societies.

    In order to prevent parliaments from losing whole areas of decision-making to those holding the relevant knowledge, five parliaments have already institutionalised a new form of co-operation between the worlds of science and politics, usually referred to under the English term "Technology Assessment" (TA).

    Technology Assessment is aimed at offering parliaments high-quality, clear and independent information obtained by implementing the appropriate methodologies and modes of investigation for each country.

    Existing experience might help those parliaments which have not yet done so to set up Technology Assessment structures, particularly in central and east European countries. Such a pooling of information on specific questions would improve their approach to managing the fields which they regard as taking priority and help them integrate more quickly into the European economy.

I. Draft resolution

1.    The phenomenal increase in the pace of scientific and technical progress indicates clearly that, in future, economies will be knowledge-based. The technological choices that will be made in the coming years will have a critical impact on national economies' competitiveness and thus on people's well-being.

2.    Scientific and technological changes are having an increasingly direct effect on society, overturning traditional ways of life and challenging existing value systems. Their political, economic, ethical, moral and environmental implications have become so wide-ranging that those responsible for exercising political choice may be unaware of what is involved.

3.    Controlling these changes, anticipating their social consequences and guiding them has become not only a duty for political leaders but also a challenge of power. The applications of science and technology therefore depend on political decision-makers' capacity to assess these complex subjects.

4.    Whilst scientific and technological innovation has led to radical changes in legislation over the last ten years, the majority of parliamentarians are, through lack of specific training and professional experience, unable to choose between the options put forward by the specialists.

5.    The democratic system is in danger of becoming unbalanced as parliaments gradually lose whole areas of decision-making to the government bodies and experts who hold the relevant knowledge.

6.    On the one hand, politicians must not be allowed to use scientific and technological discoveries for their own purposes, with no account being taken of democratic principles; on the other hand, scientists must be prevented from influencing political decisions in order to undertake research that is not subject to democratic supervision.

7.    In order to meet this challenge, scientific choices must be made in a spirit of openness and public debate. Parliaments have a duty to inform themselves and take account of all aspects of technological innovations, with priority going to those that are most likely to contribute to social well-being.

8.    The response has been the introduction, often in an institutionalised form, of a new form of collaboration between the worlds of science and politics, usually referred to under the English term "Technology Assessment".

9.    Although Technology Assessment was initially shaped by preventive, or even negative, considerations, its methods have increasingly reflected a desire to improve living conditions by channelling technological development, on the basis of broad-ranging consultations between the relevant partners.

10.    Technology Assessment is both a form of investigation and an institutional process. It assesses the consequences of technological development and contributes to national decision-making on technological strategies and their technological and economic impacts.

11.    Despite organisational differences, Technology Assessment bodies share a common objective: to offer parliaments high quality, independent information on scientific and technical problems. The aim is to adapt technology more closely to society's needs by setting out the parameters of choices and the consequences of those choices in terms of risk.

12.    In Europe, parliamentary assessment bodies are still in their infancy. Only five countries have established such institutions. Much remains to be done to develop appropriate working methods. Each country must establish its own institutional structure for Technology Assessment, taking into account its particular social, economic, political, scientific and cultural characteristics.

13.    The Assembly therefore invites

A.    the parliaments of member states, where applicable:

    i.    to take immediate steps to set up Technology Assessment bodies, drawing on existing experience, adapting it to the available material and human resources and laying down clear priorities;

    ii.    to encourage transparency and public debate on the scientific and technological choices that have to be made;

    iii.    to promote greater awareness of the need for Technology Assessment in the relevant circles and among the general public, thus stimulating the creation of such bodies;

    iv.    to ensure the independence of Technology Assessment;

    v.    to make available to newly established Technology Assessment bodies in the countries of central and eastern Europe certain costly studies already available in other countries in order to allow them a more effective management of priority areas.

B.    its relevant committees:

    i.    to organise colloquies and seminars and encourage exchanges of information and contacts to facilitate the establishment and functioning of Technology Assessment bodies in the various countries;

    ii.    to give special assistance to the establishment of Technology Assessment bodies in the countries of central and eastern Europe, in order to speed up their integration into the European economy;

    iii.    to encourage international co-operation in the Technology Assessment field and, where appropriate, contribute to exchanges of information between Technology Assessment bodies and with international organisations helping them to face problems of global importance and to avoid wasted intellectual effort;

    iv.    to associate themselves on a subject basis with the activities of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA), thus possibly laying the foundations for a European clearing house.

II. Explanatory memorandum



1.    Introduction

2.    The origins of technology assessment

2.1.    What does "the assessment of technological and scientific choices" within parliaments consist

2.2.    The principal players in Technology Assessment

3.    The parliamentary bodies in America and Europe responsible  for assessing technological and scientific choices

3.1.    The United States

3.2.    Europe

    a. France

    b. United Kingdom

    c. Germany

    d. The Netherlands

    e. Denmark

    f. Sweden

    g. Austria

    h. The rest of Europe

    i. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

    j. The European Parliament

3.3.    Observations

4.    Evaluation of the various models of parliamentary offices

5.    The importance of an assessment of technological and scientific choices for modern societies

6.    Conclusions


Examples of some reports published by parliamentary bodies responsible for the assessment of technological and scientific choices



United States

STOA (European Union)

1. Introduction

    The phenomenal increase in the pace of scientific and technical progress over several decades has brought considerable changes to living conditions. For the first time in human history, the populations of industrialised countries are going to experience several technological changes which will transform the world about them and their relationship with society.

    These changes affect not only practical aspects of their lives, but also moral and ethical values which had hitherto always been regarded as eternal and inviolable. It is now therefore essential to know, understand and control the conditions in which scientific and technical decisions are taken and applied, by people frequently unaware of their economic, ethical, moral and even political implications.

    Mastery of technological change has become a factor of power, and individuals or organisations playing no part in it risk gradual exclusion from the process of community co-operation. Varying degrees of awareness of the hidden potential dangers of progress are certainly the reason for the complex relationships which our societies now have with science and technology, relations involving simultaneous feelings of attraction and rejection.

    Our parliaments, mirrors of this society, are themselves torn between forms of attraction and forms of rejection of scientific and technological progress, and all the more so for the fact that most of their members are not prepared, either by their initial training or by their experience of working life, to make choices in fields which, until a few years ago, were familiar only to a few specialists.

    Over the past ten years, scientific and technological innovation has been one of the main causes of legislative change, while we ourselves do not always have the opportunity to assess the advantages and drawbacks to which such innovation gives rise. As a result, parliaments risk gradually losing whole areas of decision-making to the government bodies or experts who hold the knowledge.

    The complexity of the situation is reflected in the dual relationship between science and politics. On the one hand, history is full of examples of scientific and technological developments which have been used for purely political ends and which have often led to ecological disasters, mass destruction and extermination. It is no accident that, even after the end of the "cold war", most major scientific and technological research is carried out in the military domain.

    On the other hand, scientists are often asked to provide expert opinions on thorny

and controversial issues which are the subject of deep divisions among politicians. This constantly leaves the way open for scientists to use the "innocent" guise of "expertise" to influence the political decision-making process. The only way of removing this dual risk is for parliaments to exercise democratic control over scientific and technological choices and for the public to be kept involved and informed.

    Against this backdrop, a new form of co-operation between the worlds of science and politics has been introduced and often institutionalised, most often known under its English name of "Technology Assessment" (TA).

2. The origins of technology assessment

    The appearance of TA was due to numerous factors. The most important of these, namely "fear" of the consequences of the introduction of new technologies and the need to assess social and technological alternatives to the present "industrial culture", first emerged in the United States in 1973 and then more gradually in Europe from the beginning of the 1980s for more economic reasons.

    Over this period, a growing number of European states launched initiatives aimed at assessing the implications and consequences of scientific and technological development and establishing an institutional framework for assessment. Initially, these initiatives focused on finding a solution to stagnation, by placing an emphasis on stimulating innovation and analysing its socio-economic impact. In the course of this research, certain negative effects of technology, which could have been avoided, gave further justification to the concept of assessment.

    In the 1990s, the focus of research has shifted towards the dissemination of innovations and their transfer from the laboratory to industry.

    The shape of research in this area has been determined by a number of different factors, including the continuing economic crisis, problems in developing a European R&D policy that can actually get products on to the market, the scale and specific features of structural unemployment, the increasing internationalisation of the economy, markets and technology, the increasing risk of major technological and ecological disaster, concerns about the future of the planet and the recommendations of the Rio Conference.

    Generally speaking, TA, which was initially shaped by preventive or even "negative" imperatives, is now becoming more constructive and seeking to guide technological development.

2.1.    What does "the assessment of technological and scientific choices" within parliaments consist?

    T. Buchs [2] says that the phenomenon is usually described in terms of two elements: a kind of investigation of the consequences of technological development and a novel institutional process of participation in national decision-making on technology strategies.

    He goes on to say that this is why the assessment of technological and scientific choices is regarded as part of the social sciences, as well as being highly political in the light of the ideological relations between societies and science and technology.

    The bodies responsible for assessing technological and scientific choices, despite being organised differently, all have exactly the same objective: to make high quality independent information about scientific and technological problems available to parliaments.

    French law in this field provides that: "The parliamentary office known as the Parliamentary Office of Technology Assessment shall be responsible for informing parliament of the consequences of scientific and technological choices, inter alia with a view to clarifying the basis for its decisions. To this end it shall collect information and carry out study programmes and assessments".[3]

    The information collected has to be as full as possible, since, as emphasised by Mr Claret de Fleurieu in his contribution to the hearing in Warsaw on 17 May, [4] there are no purely scientific or technological choices: budgetary or commercial, social and even humanitarian considerations almost always come into play.

    Technology assessment is above all defined by its functions, the most important of these being to strengthen the decision-making process, including the drawing up and legitimisation of socially desirable policies, to carry out advance detection and forward-looking assessment, increase the amount of information available and the number of parties to the decision-making process and to open technology to public debate.

    In assessing technological progress, particular emphasis is placed on the following principles:

    _    ensuring that technology is better adapted to society's needs, thereby avoiding technological wastage;

    _    avoiding or limiting risks, by means of a forward-looking approach;

    _    making full use of the opportunities offered by technology, by evaluating it not only in its own terms, but also in terms of society's needs.

    It is not a matter of slowing down progress but of promoting one sector of research rather than another; it is not just a matter of cutting economic and social costs, but also of maximising the benefits of innovation.

2.2.     The principal players in TA

    In general, there are three main players in questions of technology policy and therefore, in TA, namely: the authorities, enterprises and the public.

    _    first, the political decision-makers, anxious to reconcile the different interests involved and to respond to public concerns regarding employment, the environment, social exclusion and so forth, on the basis of reliable information.

    _    second, for enterprises, which prioritise new products and new markets, it is important both to assess the potential of new technologies to improve decision-making in connection with product design, manufacture and marketing and to know the political context in which they will operate.

    _    third, the public, concerned about many issues, including quality of life, job security and the environment. The public also has the right to call the authorities to account on the division of resources between the civilian and military sectors.

    Other sectors concerned with TA include:

    _    senior public service officials, responsible for developing policies and regulations in areas such as the protection of public health, product safety and legal protection for workers, citizens and consumers.

    _    the trades unions and the voluntary sector, who need reliable information in order to defend the interests of those they represent.

3. The parliamentary bodies in America and Europe responsible for assessing technological and scientific choices

    Before our consideration of the various parliamentary bodies responsible for assessing technological and scientific choices, it has to be pointed out that other bodies exist, as well as those linked to parliaments, some answerable to the executive (within ministerial departments), some set up by local or regional authorities and others independent (academic and research centres). These are often specialised in certain fields, and each uses its own assessment method.

    The political culture of the country concerned determines the different forms and methods of operation of the parliamentary bodies.

3.1.    The United States

    The United States was the first country to set up an assessment body, but also the first one to close it. Many observers wonder whether the budgetary reasons set forth by the Congress are the only one to justify that decision.

    The OTA (Office of Technology Assessment) [5]  was set up in 1972 and interrupted its activities on 30 September 1995. It was managed by a board comprising six senators and six members of the House of Representatives (six Republicans and six Democrats) plus the director of the office. It was chaired by each of the two Houses and parties in turn. Thus the internal functioning of the OTA was not affected by a change in political majority.

    The scientific community exercised a kind of control over the OTA through the Technology Assessment Advisory Council (TAAC), which has twelve members appointed by the Bureau of the OTA for a four-year term.

    The OTA was completely independent of the executive authority (being answerable solely to Congress) and had large financial resources enabling it to call on celebrated outside experts. It had a budget of approximately 20 million dollars in 1992, when it had some 150 full-time and fifty part-time staff.

    The OTA carried out assessment work at the request of the committees of Congress, but was also allowed to tackle any subject to which its board or director attached importance. While it was the board which outlined strategy, the Director had a very high degree of freedom in running the activities of the office. The OTA sought advice from a variety of sources and consulted experts on specific subjects for each assessment project.

    The office produced approximately twenty-five reports a year [6] in a variety of fields including energy, defence, health, communications, the environment and the sciences themselves. As well as those reports, the OTA published a number of background papers and case studies. So the OTA's main task was that of identifying current or probable effects of technology and putting forward possible alternatives.

    Since being set up twenty-two years ago, it had managed to build up a certain reputation among the public (which it involved through advisory groups, workshops and formal or informal meetings) and in the scientific and political worlds. It was increasingly taking on the role of a kind of counterweight to the administration, publishing hard-hitting studies critical of the executive.

    The suspension of OTA activities proves that the balance between neutral expertise and political power is very delicate and can easily be upset if both parties do not respect the rules of the game.

3.2.    Europe

    Europe has two kinds of bodies, one operating with a high degree of parliamentary involvement (France), the other being the independent model (Austria and Sweden), which has such a high degree of independence of the political world that parliaments have no direct role to play in it. There are a number of halfway house models between these two in other European countries.

a.    France

    The French Parliament also created a body to clarify the basis for decisions in the scientific and technical sphere in 1983, namely the OPECST (Parliamentary Office of Technology Assessment).[7]  This is an exclusively parliamentary body, completely independent of both government and the public service.

    It comprises eight members of the Assembly and eight senators, appointed in a manner which guarantees the proportional representation of political groups. It may be asked to carry out a study by the bureaux of both Assemblies, by the standing or special committees or by sixty members of the Lower or forty of the Upper House.

    The French office is "assisted" by a scientific council, which can draw attention to subjects for assessment by the office. The Scientific Council comprises fifteen scientists, appointed for a three-year term.

    Unlike that of the OTA, the functioning of the French office has a high degree of parliamentary involvement. A rapporteur is appointed for each study from among the members of the office. Rapporteurs may call on the assistance of experts, but always remain in control of their own studies, which are published under their names.

    Studies have covered a very wide range of subjects, which may be grouped under six main headings: the environment, industry, new technologies, nuclear energy, life sciences and research. The French office's assessments are published in the form of parliamentary documents, and these are very widely distributed outside parliament itself.

    Although its resources are relatively modest _ about ten high-level officials _ the French Parliament's office has, on several occasions, had a decisive influence on the direction taken by the law-making process. It also constitutes an original, but fairly effective means of monitoring government activity, and above all, it has the role not originally envisaged for it of creating close and permanent links between the political world and the scientific community. It has a budget of 6 million francs. It published thirty-one studies in its first ten years of existence.

    Its main task is thus that of conducting a "political" assessment, since it has a high degree of parliamentary involvement, and in this it is unlike most of the bodies which exist in other countries.

b.    United Kingdom

    The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) was set up in 1986. It has an assessment function and is independent of both the government and pressure groups. It comprises five trustees, four members of the House of Commons, four members of the House of Lords, one member of the European Parliament and six representatives of industry, universities and the scientific world.

    POST has been funded by parliament since 1 April 1993; before then, the office had been supported by donations from industry, professional organisations and foundations, under the auspices of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee.

    Its main task is to anticipate and assess the needs of parliament in respect of those questions on which suitable policies can only be formulated if their consequences are better understood. The POST thus endeavours to forge a permanent link between the legislative assembly, the scientific and academic world and industry.

c.    Germany

    Germany has had more difficulty than any other country in finding a solution to the problem of parliamentary assessment of scientific and technological choices.

    The "experimental" solution adopted in 1989 was that of giving additional terms of reference to the Committee on Research, Technology and Technological Assessment. This parliamentary body has the task of initiating and supervising analyses of the consequences of technological development. It comprises thirty-four members of parliament, reflecting the political compositing of the Bundestag.

    The German Parliamentary Office of Technology Assessment (B�ro f�r Technikfolgen-Absch�tzung beim Deutschen Bundestag), TAB, was set up in 1990 by the Division for Applied Systems Analysis (AFAS) of the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center under a contract with the German Bundestag.

    After a three-year provisional phase the German Parliament unanimously resolved on 4 March 1993, to transform the Office of Technology Assessment into a permanent institution working for the German Parliament. For the 1993-98 period, AFAS was again contracted to run TAB.

    TAB's goal is to support the deliberations and decision-making processes of the German parliament by providing it with timely and relevant advice about technologies and technology-related issues.

    TAB attempts to make Technology Assessment a process of intensive interaction between parliament, the scientific community, and societal groups. Through this process, data and information will be assessed and transmitted in such a way that TA can be integrated into parliamentary discussions, opinion-formation, and decision-making. TA is, moreover, always regarded as an element of public discussion.

    Some interesting schemes have been started in individual L�nder (federal states). North Rhine-Westphalia launched a project in 1984 with a view to stimulating technological research and taking advantage of regional differences. Lower Saxony has started a social science research programme, run by the state's Science and Culture Ministry and conducted by a sociology institute in G�ttingen. By introducing such schemes, individual federal states are endeavouring to provide a political "counterweight" to the schemes originating in Bonn/Berlin.

d.    The Netherlands

    The Rathenau Instituut is the former Netherlands Organisation for Technology Assessment: NOTA. It identifies, articulates and analyses the social implications of scientific and technological development. Its aim it to improve the integration of science and technology, through stimulating public debate and supporting political opinion and decision-making processes. Since its founding in 1986, the institute has designed, set up and implemented a number of technology assessment programmes, primarily directed towards the Dutch Parliament. The Rathenau Instituut is funded by the Dutch Government and has a permanent multidisciplinary staff of eight engineers and scientists. The nine members of the board are appointed by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science and the Scientific Council for Government Policy.

    The Rathenau Instituut selects and defines the topics for technology assessment projects after consulting shareholders, including members of parliament and government officials. It contracts research institutions to investigate the impact of scientific and technological developments in society. The results are subsequently reviewed by advisory panels representing different disciplines and interest groups. Mapping the players and stakeholders involved in technological innovation, stimulating discussion in workshops and conferences and supporting the processes of decision-making, are essential parts of every project.

e.    Denmark

    The Danish board of Technology (TN) was set up in Denmark in 1986. It is independent of the government, but has its own nine-member committee in parliament. The committee appoints the fifteen-strong board, members of which are drawn from scientific, educational, trade union, local and regional, etc., organisations. The committee may ask the board to study major technological and scientific issues.

    The board has a budget of 9,3 million Dkr, [8]  and its main task is to assess the possibilities and consequences of technological developments for the individual and society and to stimulate public debate on the issue. In practice, the special feature of the Danish system seems to be the important role of social consensus, and consequently of public information and participation. Furthermore, the board monitors international technological development and co-operates with foreign institutions engaged in technology assessment.

f.    Sweden

    In the same Scandinavian tradition of dialogue and compromise, the Swedish concept of the assessment of technological and scientific choices centres on a new awareness over the past twenty years of much more than technology and science proper. Cultural values and human dignity are always taken into account for the purposes of any assessment.

    Drawing inspiration from the American OTA, the Swedes set up a secretariat for future studies as early as 1973. Institutionalisation took longer, and it was not until 1988 that the Institute for Future Studies (ISF) was set up. A parliamentary committee had, however, already been set up in 1975.

    The ISF has nine members (members of parliament, trade union representatives, managers, teachers) appointed by the government. They are assisted by a secretariat and three scientists. The institute's main task is to set the course of research programmes, which are then carried out by teams of scientists from universities and research centres. It has a budget of 12 million SK, which comes from the government and from private funds.[9]

g.    Austria

    Austria's case is unusual for two reasons: firstly, it is the only country in which parliament was not a driving force in the institutionalisation of the assessment of technological and scientific choices. Its other peculiarity is its effective integration of

science, universities and the economy.

    Some institutions produce TA-related or partial TA-studies for different ministries, but there is only one institution whose work is dedicated to TA solely and which also has served parliament until now.

    In 1988, the "Technology Assessment Unit" evolved from the Institute for Socio-Economic Research and changed its name and formal status in the beginning of 1994: the Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ITA).

    In 1992 the first parliamentary Inquiry-Commission was establish in order to perform TA on a concrete issue. As a result of this first experience, a special working group of members of parliament is to work out a proposal on the institutionalisation of TA within the Austrian Parliament.

    Another institution on the edge between science and politics is the Council for Technology Development at the Federal Ministry for Science and Research which was established in 1988.

h.    The rest of Europe

    Several European countries have bodies responsible for assessing technological and scientific choices, but have not institutionalised them (Norway) or are only starting to do so. Institutionalisation is under way at regional level in Belgium.

    The countries of southern Europe (Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece) have always been technology importers. Production in certain technological fields is only now beginning to develop. As a result, there has been no institutionalisation of the assessment of technological and scientific choices, but projects are in hand.

    Ireland, which is in the same situation, has concentrated on international co-operation and technology transfer. It nevertheless has a small, non-institutionalised, institute for the assessment of technological and scientific choices.

    The concept of the assessment of technological and scientific choices is completely new to the former communist countries. Such choices were previously an integral part of the planned economy system. No encouragement was therefore given to either innovation or public debate. In spite of the economic and budgetary difficulties involved, it is important for these countries to rapidly acquire such bodies, for they have huge scientific and technological needs.

i.    The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

    During the 1970s the Committee on Science and Technology took the initiative of setting up a permanent and independent structure within it known as the European Joint Committee on Scientific Co-operation. The committee comprised several members of the Assembly and scientists of European renown. This exercise might be described as a first attempt on a European scale at an assessment of scientific and technological choices. At a time when the correlation between technological choices and economic competitiveness was not so obvious, the committee was disbanded after about ten years, for lack of available funds.

    However, the Committee on Science and Technology has continued to play a pioneering role in the essential dialogue between politicians and the scientific and technological world, regularly holding parliamentary and scientific conferences, hearings, colloquies and seminars. Its Sub-Committee on Technology Policy to some extent now functions as a structure for the assessment of technological choices.

j.    The European Parliament

    The STOA (Scientific and Technological Option Assessment) [10] was created in 1987 within the European Parliament. This body is responsible for providing information and scientific advice to members of parliament to enable them to assess scientific and technological choices (in the spheres of energy, the environment, bioethics, air transport, etc.).

    All European Parliament committees are represented on the STOA. There is therefore feedback between the latter and the work of the European Parliament in more specific areas. Working alongside the members of parliament on the STOA are seven support staff and three scientists for each project or contract. Its budget stands at around 1 million ecus. The STOA can undertake studies on its own initiative or carry out specific research under external contracts. Around twenty projects are planned under the 1995 work programme.

    The participating institutions are constitutionally and methodologically heterogeneous, but share a concern for providing impartial and high-quality accounts and

reports of developments in issues such as biotechnology, public health, environment and energy, industrial and R&D policy.

    Under the auspices of the STOA, a network of national institutions, the EPTA (European Parliamentary Technology Assessment Network), was set up in 1990. Members include POST (United Kingdom), OPECST (France), TAB (Germany), Danish Board of Technology (Denmark) and NOTA (Netherlands). The Council of Europe has observer status, so it is represented at EPTA meetings.

3.3.     Observations

    A number of similarities between the various models may be noted. As T. Buchs emphasises, [11] the institutionalisation of the assessment of technological and scientific choices is a delicate process, on which the credibility, success and usefulness of such assessments depend.

    There is no single model, but each has encountered the same difficulties, such as the problem of reconciling usefulness and justification of their existence, on the one hand, and the demonstration of some degree of independence and objectivity, on the other. In the face of this last-named problem, the bodies responsible for assessing technological and scientific choices frequently prefer to call in foreign specialists on awkward questions or those which arouse passionate feelings.

4. Evaluation of the various models of parliamentary offices

    It is interesting for countries which have not yet gone through the phase of institutionalising their assessment bodies to look at the experience of the various countries and their respective models. The fact that each has a different system shows that political culture and mentality also play an important part.

    T. Buchs [12] draws a distinction between three main models:

    _     the pure parliamentary model (France);

    _     the extra-institutional parliamentary model (United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Netherlands);

    _     the independent model (Sweden, Denmark and Austria).

    France is the best example of a country which has opted for the pure parliamentary model. As already stated, this entails a very high degree of involvement by members of parliament, and from this point of view is highly democratic.

    The lightness of the structure means that its studies are compact, readable and well targeted, unlike the voluminous reports produced by the OTA.

    The extra-institutional parliamentary model is _ as the term indicates _ outside the institution of parliament. It might be an existing institute, or a new joint institution may be set up. Examples are the OTA, NOTA, POST and TAB.

    We see that this formula had enabled the OTA to acquire a certain degree of independence, enabling it to adopt a critical, and even militant, stance. The political strife between Republicans and Democrats had of course encouraged this tendency, but it remains a fact that the independence enjoyed by the OTA had enabled it to reach a polemical "cruising speed".

    Its aim in adopting this polemical tone was to arouse the awareness of the public and to encourage members of Congress to take rapid and wide-ranging action. The OTA had often transformed itself into a real pressure group. Thus, as elections approached, it urged the members of Congress to take rapid decisions. In this context, one significant detail must not be ignored: the OTA had a budget twenty times larger, on average, than its counterparts in Europe.

    In spite of their much more modest budgets, these bodies also had the role of a "counterweight", in the words of T. Buchs, [13] who at the same time warns that this model is not necessarily the right one, depending on the national political system. [14]

    The independent model seems to be favoured by the Scandinavians, as well as the Austrians. They work with independent institutions, giving priority to dialogue with the public. These institutions which are wholly or virtually independent of their respective parliaments do have the disadvantage of a frequently very wide gap between themselves and the political world and the decision-making process, creating problems in the sphere of follow-up, for example.

5. The importance of an assessment of technological and scientific choices for modern societies

    The setting up and, in an increasing number of countries, institutionalisation, of bodies responsible for the assessment of technological and scientific choices stem from a concern to make the decision-making process both more efficient (economic considerations require rapid decision-taking) and more rational, in order to avoid "wrong" choices which turn out to be uneconomic or even harmful in the long term.

    In the words of Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, "there is a particular need for a parliamentary assessment of technological and scientific choices, not only because

technological progress is speeding up, something which is not new, but particularly because it is taking much more varied forms". [15]

    The "determining functions" of the bodies concerned in the various countries are listed below. [16]

Determining functions


1. Strengthening the decision-making process

USA, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Austria

2. Legitimising short and medium-term government policies

USA, Germany, Austria, Denmark, France

3. Helping to develop future policies

Sweden, Netherlands

4. Detecting problems and negative external factors

Netherlands, United Kingdom

5. Expanding available information and increasing the number of parties involved

USA, Germany (recent), Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, France (recent), United Kingdom

6. Preparing and developing socially desirable applications of technology

USA, Netherlands

7. Fostering public acceptance of technology


8. Encouraging an awareness in the scientific community of its responsibilities


    Awareness only began to grow fairly recently, so the past does offer examples of technological or scientific projects which failed for want of a prior assessment. The right balance has to be struck between trying to go too far, striving for political prestige and technological conservatism. It was not always struck in the past.

    In his address to a recent hearing in Paris, Mr Pierre Claret de Fleurieu gave a number of examples of failures in Europe. Possible examples of technological over-reaching to be avoided in the future were the commercial failure of Concorde, the Franco-British supersonic aircraft, and America's Challenger space shuttle disaster.

    It was technological conservatism that led to the attempt to impose MAC analogue television standards in Europe just as the United States was perfecting digital standards.

    It will be possible, thanks to the setting up of assessment bodies within parliaments, to avoid repeating certain failures of the past, such as the underestimation

of some effects on the environment, since these bodies offer guarantees of independence and, in particular, are part of a process of counterbalancing authority.

    On the other hand, after twenty years of operation for the OTA and barely ten years on average for the European bodies, one significant conclusion may already be drawn, the goals set for the assessment of technological and scientific choices were overambitious.

    The decision-making process, for example, has not been made any easier, since members of parliaments have more information available, often giving them more options and leading to longer debates. Also overestimated was the prevention of long-term consequences of technological developments, since "the unknown factors were many, and anticipating scientific and technological progress is quite an achievement, and indeed is scarcely possible".[17]

    Technology assessment must therefore not be confused either with exhaustive forecasting of future developments or with pure research and is to be regarded as one of many inputs (rather than the sole input) of information into the decision-making process.

    The initial pattern of "new technology . assessment of technological and scientific choices . identification of the available choices . political decision on the basis of these choices" [18] was too mechanical to correspond to reality.

    Last but not least, the main thing which was missing from this assessment and decision-making process was public opinion. Absolute priority was not given to providing the public with information, except in a few countries (mainly in Scandinavia). All these facts have given rise to the new concept of assessment of technological and scientific choices for the 1990s. [19]

Differences between the old and new TA concept

Old TA concept

New TA concept

Dominant role of scientists

Equal roles for the various users, parties concerned and scientists

Very high expectations of the capabilities of science

Modest expectations of the capabilities of science

The outcome of the TA process is a final report

The outcome of the TA process is not solely the fruit of research, but also stems from a discussion of the subject among all the partners concerned

The problem is frequently defined in general terms, and therefore has to be set out more precisely at a later date

Great attention is paid to the way in which the problem is expressed

One single TA institution

TA research capacity takes many forms

Use of the TA information as an instrument in a decision-making process dominated by scientific considerations

Conceptual use of the TA information in decision-making processes dominated by political considerations

The results play an automatic part in the decision-making process

Great attention is paid to giving the TA process a part to play in decision-making

6. Conclusions

    It is clear that members of the parliaments of most western countries now have a greater awareness. They believe that the work of the legislative assembly cannot be coherent or the executive be properly controlled unless parliaments themselves can assess the major scientific or technical issues, on their own initiative, through bodies which they themselves manage or supervise. They hope by this means to avoid excessive bureaucratisation involving high authorities, supreme councils, groups of experts, etc., depriving parliaments of an appreciable part of their natural powers.

    This is in practice the only way in which members of parliaments can, at a very early stage of the decision-making process, find out about possible alternative solutions, enabling a genuinely pluralist debate to be opened in which all may express their opinion.

    It is early days, in Europe, for parliamentary assessment offices. Much remains to be done to work out the appropriate methodologies for them, but progress can only be made through movement. It is by gaining experience and comparing it with that of neighbouring countries that those who hold political responsibilities will gradually be able, with full knowledge of the facts, to make the choices in the scientific and technological spheres on which the future of our societies already depends, and will increasingly depend.

    Clearly, each country must find its own institutional structure for TA, in accordance with its particular socio-economic, political, cultural and scientific characteristics. Nevertheless, the latest scientific and technological developments, and their economic applications, transcend all national borders. With the deregulation and

liberalisation of financial markets, along with the globalisation of research and the economy, control over technological progress is being gradually taken out of the hands of national elected authorities.

    For this reason, it is becoming increasingly vital to create TA institutions at international, as well as national level. The EPTA network is a good example of initial steps in this direction.

    International co-operation in TA is also a way of helping countries in transition or developing countries, which are facing extremely difficult technological choices. With regard to the countries of central and eastern Europe for example, following the collapse of Comecon, whole sectors of the economy have to be restructured in order to make these countries competitive at international level. They also need help in choosing new technologies, since for decades the import of new technologies, especially strategic technologies, was prohibited by the COCOM.

    In future, technology transfer must go hand in hand with TA transfer, if we are to guarantee international security and preserve the environment. Consequently, in future, national budget estimates must earmark more resources for TA in order to enable it to meet society's growing needs in this area.


Examples of some reports published by parliamentary bodies responsible for the assessment of technological and scientific choices

France: Reports published by the Parliamentary Office of Technology Assessment [20]

The environment

    _     Forms of long-range air pollution and acid rain (G. Le Baill, MP, 1985)

    _     The effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the environment and ways of eliminating or limiting emissions of them (R. Galley, MP, and L. Perrein, Senator 1990)

    _     The problems raised by the processing of industrial waste (M. Destot, MP, 1991)

    _     The preservation of water quality: drinking water distribution and waste water processing (J. Faure, Senator, and R. Pouille, Senator, 1991)

    _     Problems arising from the development of activities linked to the extraction of mineral resources from the Antarctic (J.-Y. Le Deaut, MP, 1992)

    _     The ecological impact of the Rhine-Rhone link (R. Forni, MP, and P. Vallon, Senator, 1993)

    _     The problems of household waste (M. Pelchat, MP, 1993)

    _     The problems of hospital waste management (M. Destot, MP, 1993)

    _     Techniques for predicting and preventing earthquakes (C. Kert, MP, 1995)

New technologies

    _     The development of the semiconductor industry (L. Mexandeau, MP, 1989)

    _     The application of biotechnology to agriculture and the agri-food industry (D. Chevallier, MP, 1990)

    _     French and European space policy trends (P. Loridant, Senator, 1991)

    _     High definition television (R. Forni, MP, and M. Pelchat, MP, 1989 and 1993)

    _     The environment protection benefits of electric vehicles (P. Laffitte, Senator, 1993)

    _     The responses offered by new transport technologies to the problems of saturation of north-south routes (J.-M. Demange, MP, and M. Vallon, Senator, 1994)

    _    Updating of the study of developments in the semiconductor and microelectronics sectors (C. Descours, Senator, 1994)

    _     The influence of certain scientific and technological choices on the spatiotemporal organisation of human life (F. Serusclat, Senator, 1995)

Nuclear energy

    _     The consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station and safety arrangements at nuclear plants (J.-M. Rausch, Senator, and R. Pouille, Senator, 1987)

    _     The management of highly radioactive nuclear waste (C. Bataille, MP, 1990)

    _     The management of very low level radioactive waste (J.-Y. Le Deaut, MP, 1992)

    _     The monitoring of nuclear plant safety and security (C. Birraux, MP, and F. Serusclat, Senator, 1990) (C. Birraux, MP, 1991) (C. Birraux, MP, 1992) (C. Birraux, MP, 1993)

    _     The monitoring of nuclear plant safety and security (C. Birraux, MP, 1994)

Life sciences

    _     Life sciences and human rights: uncontrolled upheaval or legislation, French-style (F. Serusclat, Senator, 1992)

    _     Bio-diversity and the preservation of the genome (D. Chevallier, MP, 1992)


    _     Research policy trends (R. Galley, MP, and J. Mossion, Senator, 1994)

    _     Co-operation between French and European research bodies and their counterparts in the countries of eastern Europe (J. Sourdille, Senator, 1994)

    _     Technology transfers with the countries of eastern Europe (H. Revol, Senator, 1994)

Studies in progress

    _     The monitoring of nuclear plant safety and security (C. Birraux, MP)

    _     The development prospects of agricultural production for non-food use (R. Galley, MP, and J. Mossion, Senator)

    _     The links between health and the environment, with particular reference to children (J.-F. Mattei, MP)

    _     The future of high capacity networks and links and the corresponding economic and technological choices relations to remote transmission (P. Laffitte, Senator, and Mr Pelchat, MP)

    _     The new television technologies (M. Pechat, MP)

    _     Highly radioactive nuclear waste (2nd report) (C. Bataille, MP)

    _     Techniques for reconstituting so-called synthetic images (C. Huriet, Senator)

Germany: Reports published by the Office of Technology Assessment of the German Parliament [21]

Completed TA projects (between 1991 and 1993)

    _     Waste avoidance and household waste disposal

    _     Protection of ground water and water supply

    _     The S�nger Space Transport System

    _    Risk associated with the increased utilisation of hydrogen

    _     Biological safety considerations in the use of genetic engineering

    _     Genome analysis: opportunities and risks of genetic testing

Current activities (as from February 1994)

    _     New materials

    _     Development and analysis of options for reducing demands upon the transportation system and for shifting road transportation to less environmentally detrimental forms of transportation

    _     The significance of environmental technologies for the economic development of the Federal Republic of Germany

    _     Evaluation criteria for new defence technologies

    _     Economic and social impacts of modern bio-technologies upon developing countries and upon future co-operation for economic development

    _     Opportunities and problems in the pursuit and achievement of national and EU-wide environmental protection goals within the European process of setting technical standards

United States: Work of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) [22]

Industry, technology and employment

    _     Multinational corporations and US technology base

    _     Commercialisation of emerging technologies

    _     Technology, jobs and productivity in the service economy

Education and human resources

    _     Teachers and technology

    _     Technologies for understanding the root causes of substance abuse and addiction

    _     The human genome project and patenting human DNA sequences

    _     Eligibility criteria for a federally mandated long-term care programme

Energy, transport and infrastructure

    _     Advanced automobile technologies

    _    US energy efficiency: past trends and future opportunities

    _     Renewable energy technology: research, development and commercial prospects

    _     Fuelling reform: technologies for the former east bloc

    _     Federal aviation research and technology

International security and space

    _     Defense modelling and simulation

    _     Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

    _     Earth observation systems

    _     Assessing the potential integration of defense and civilian technology and manufacturing

Telecommunication and computing technologies

    _     Information security and privacy in network environments

    _     Social security administration's information technology automation program

    _     Information technology and the health care system

    _     The electronic enterprise: opportunities for American business and industry

    _     Wireless technologies and the national information infrastructure

    _     Information technologies for control of money laundering

    _     Global communications policy: issues and technology

    _     Telecommunications technology and native Americans: opportunities and challenges


    _     New approaches to environmental regulation

    _     Agriculture, trade and the environment

    _     Aquaculture: food and renewable resources from US waters

    _     Biological pest control

    _     Science and technology, renewable resources and international development

    _     Risks to students in school

    _     Research on health risk assessment

    _     OSHA's choice of control technologies and estimations of economic impacts


    _     Understanding estimates of national health expenditures

    _     Regulatory and health assessment of dietary supplements

    _     Setting the stage for studying Persian Gulf veterans' health

    _     Issues related to Aids technologies

    _     Health professions training: Roles of titles VII and VIII

    _     Technology, insurance and the health care system

    _     Defensive medicine and medical malpractice

    _     International differences in health technology, services and economics

    _     Policy issues in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis

    _     Prospects for health technology assessment

    _     Monitoring of mandated veteran studies

    _     Prospective payment assessment commission

    _     Physician payment review commission

STOA: European Union [23]

Some topics dealt with in the past

    _     European research on thermonuclear fusion

    _     The role of the European Community in promoting research and development in eastern Europe: scientific objectives and financial instruments

    _     Bioethics

    _     Air traffic control systems in Europe

    _     Nuclear waste treatment and stocking strategies and technologies

    _     Maritime industries: technical and organisational aspects of the establishment of a foundation or agency to co-ordinate EC maritime industries

    _     Bio-technologies and cereal production in developing countries

Topics on which work is under way


    _     Environmental costing and taxation

    _     Reducing pressure on ecologically sensitive zones in the Mediterranean region: scientific criteria for the assessment of EU policy instruments

    _     The European water directives

    _     Flood research

    _     Damage to monuments by pollution

    _     European costguard workshop

    _     Siberian forests _ Follow-up study


    _     Nuclear safeguards and nuclear safety in the east

    _     Technological innovation and the electricity sector

    _     Energy and climate change workshop

Life sciences

    _     Prospective assessment of biomedical technologies: engineering, instrumentation, techniques and pharmaceuticals: ethical, social and legal aspects

    _     Aquaculture: development, environmental impact, protection of quality products

    _     Fertility and contraception

    _     Nutrition in Europe Workshop


    _     The future of the car and the car of the future

    _     Future railway control technologies in Europe

    _     Telematics in transport


    _     The information society: competitivity and employment

    _     Nano-Technology

    _     Spin-off from fusion research

    Reporting committee: Committee on Science and Technology.

    Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

    Reference to committee: Doc. 7413 and Reference No. 2045 of 9 November 1995.

    Draft resolution unanimously adopted by the committee on 20 November 1995.

    Members of the committee: Mr Roseta (Chairman), Mrs Terborg, Mr Birraux (Vice-Chairpersons), MM. About, Bartodziej, Bauer, Beaufays, Benetatos (Alternate: Sofoulis), Berger, Bog�r, Mrs Brenden (Alternate: Mr Lie), MM. Caccia, Cherribi, Cunliffe, Deguara, Galley, Golu, Gregory, Gui�, Guidi (Alternate: Lorenzi), Mrs Hoffmann, MM. Hurta, Johansson, Korakas, Leers (Alternate: Dees), Lekberg, Lenzer, L�pez Valdivielso, Luczak (Alternate: Rewaj), Maass, Metelko, Mocioi, Moln�r, Nania, Olrich, Petersen, Po�as Santos, Poz�la, Prokes, Ruka, Mrs Schicker, MM. Sinka, Speroni, Mrs Stiborov�, Mr Theis, Sir Donald Thompson (Alternate: Mr Litherland), Mr Jack Thompson (Alternate: Lord Newall), MM. Tiuri, Toshev, Y�r�r, Weyts.

    N.B.    The names of those members who took part in the vote are printed in italics.

    Secretaries of the committee: Mr Perin and Miss Theophilova.

[1] by the Committee on Science and Technology

[2] T. Buchs. Technology assessment: exp�riences occidentales et d�fis actuels (western experience and current challenges): summary, p. 3, Conseil Suisse de la Science, 1992.

[3] Section 6 ter of Act No. 83-106 of 8 July 1983.

[4] Address by Mr Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, hearing of 17 May 1994, organised by the Council of Europe Committee on Science and Technology on "Technology and parliaments: assessment of technological choices".

[5] See appendix for published reports.

[6] T. Buchs. In: Technology assessment: exp�riences occidentales et d�fis actuels, pp. 10 and 11, Conseil Suisse de la Science, 1992.

[7] See appendix for published reports.

[8] Teknologi Naevnet, p. 1. Published by the Folketinget.

[9] T. Buchs. Technology assessment: exp�riences occidentales et d�fis actuels, p. 35, Conseil Suisse de la Science, 1992.

[10] See appendix for published reports.

[11] T. Buchs. Technology assessment: exp�riences occidentales et d�fis actuels, p. 43, Conseil Suisse de la Science, 1992.

[12] Ibid. p. 43.

[13] Ibid., p. 43.

[14] Ibid., p. 43.

[15] Address by Mr Pierre Claret de Fleurieu on the occasion of the hearing in paris on 17 May 1994 on "Technology and parliaments: assessment of technological choices", Paris, 1994.

[16] T. Buchs. Technology assessment: exp�riences occidentales et d�fis actuels, p. 44, Conseil Suisse de la Science, 1992.

[17] Ibid., p. 45.

[18] Ibid., p. 45.

[19] Ibid. p. 47.

[20] Office parlementaire d'�valuation des choix scientifiques et technologiques: 1983-93; le bilan. Published by the Assembly and Senate of the French Republic, 1993. Assembl�e Nationale, 233 boulevard Saint-German, F-75355 Paris 07 SP. Directors: Mr Maurice Laurent (Assembly) tel: 33 1 40 63 88 15; fax: 33 1 40 63 88 08 and Mr Claret de Fleurieu (Senate) tel: 33 1 42 34 27 73; fax: 33 1 42 34 21 69. Secretary: Mrs Elisabeth Bebin.

[21] Office of Technology Assessment of the German Parliament: Goals, topics, organisation. Bonn, February 1994. Director: Professor Dr. Herbert Paschen _ ITAS, Postfach 3640, Forschungszentrum, D-76021 Karlsruhe, tel: 49 7247 823970; fax: 49 7247 824806. Secretary: Mrs Ingrid van Berg. _ TAB, Rheinweg 121, D 53129 Bonn, tel: 49 228 23 3583; fax: 49 228 23 3755. Secretary: Dr Leonhard Hennen.

[22] Assessment activities, April 1994. Published by the Congress of the United States and the Office of Technology Assessment.

Although OTA has ceased to exist, working documents and publications can still be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office (tel: (202) 512-1800 or fax: (202) 512-2250). Further inquiries may be directed to Mr Roger Herdman, at tel: (202) 224-8713.

For any further information please contact: Mr Todd La Porte, 3215 Morrison St. NW, Washington, DC 20015, tel: (202) 537-3273. e-mail: [email protected]

[23] Note on the STOA Workplan of the European Parliament, February 1995. Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA), European Parliament, SCH 4/84, L-2929 Luxembourg. Director: Mr Dick Holdsworth; tel: 352 43 00 3596; fax: 352 43 00 2418.