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Renewed call for EU to consider impacts of new laws on research

Image: European Union

Academia “too often ignored” when assessing consequences of new regulations, groups tell Commission chief

More groups have now urged the EU to consider impacts for research and higher education when developing new laws and regulations.

Eight sector organisations sent a letter to the European Commission on 31 January calling for it to give more thought to research and higher education when analysing the potential effects of new legislation.

The EU has “too often” proposed regulations and directives that have far-reaching consequences for universities and research centres, while giving little or no consideration to these implications, according to the organisations, which include the European University Association.

Building on previous call

Their call is in line with a similar recent plea from the EUA for the EU to introduce a “university check” when developing laws to ensure universities are not harmed by new legislation.

The other signatories of the new letter, which was addressed to Commission secretary-general Ilze Juhansone (pictured), are:

  • The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities
  • The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
  • Open-access group Knowledge Rights 21
  • The Association of European Research Libraries
  • Science Europe, which represents major research funding and performing organisations
  • Open-access advocacy group Sparc Europe
  • Electronic Information for Libraries, which works with libraries to enable access to knowledge in developing countries.

Ole Petter Ottersen, acting secretary-general of the Guild, said: “To fully realise the potential of European research-intensive universities, it is essential that research and education are considered in [the EU’s] impact assessment of new legislative proposals.”

Public sector neglected

The organisations gave the example of the Digital Services Act—which regulates online platforms—as EU legislation for which the impact on research and universities was not sufficiently considered. Concerns have been raised that open-access scholarly publishing could suffer because of the 2022 law, as it includes obligations on how to manage platforms that extend to open-access repositories.

The groups urged the Commission to update its guidance on preparing new legislation and initiatives to “properly and fully include the needs and interests of higher education and research, as well as to ensure the protection of academic freedom”.

The EU already has an innovation principle, which says it should consider the impact on innovation when developing new initiatives, but the signatories of the letter said this principle focuses on private-sector research. They called on the EU to review the principle to ensure it reflects the importance of public sector research and education.

Need for predictable rules

EUA secretary general Amanda Crowfoot said that universities “need clear and predictable rules and regulations, as well as a regulatory framework that ensures their institutional autonomy and academic freedom”.

Science Europe president Mari Sundli Tveit said that recent EU laws “have added undue complexity for researchers and research organisations”, adding that changes to EU impact assessment practices are needed.

A spokesperson for the Commission told Research Professional News that its regulatory approach is “based on the principles of comprehensive approach, relevance and proportionality”.

“This means that while the Commission screens any new initiative for any type of potential impacts (including on education and research facilities), it focuses in the analysis on those that are the most relevant and in a manner proportionate to the expected impacts. If impacts on education and research facilities are indeed significant, the level of the analysis is commensurate.”

They added that the Commission consults stakeholders on initiatives, giving them chance to contribute to policymaking “at several stages of policy development in a way that would serve their best interests”, and that ‘calls for evidence’ specifically ask the scientific community to contribute to the preparation of policies when relevant.