All change for European scientific networks

European Environment Agency moves towards fundamental overhaul of topic centre system

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is set to make big changes to its Europe-wide scientific network next year, ENDS Daily has learned. The "European Topic Centre" (ETC) system is to be slimmed down from eight to six themes and reoriented towards a more policy-relevant focus. The process took an important step forward last week with receipt of bids from scientific organisations to run each of the new networks.

ETCs play an important supporting role for the EEA, offering collaborative, cross-country partnerships of experts able to work on specific projects. The number of networks reached nine in 1997, before falling back to eight last year with the closure of the soil topic centre after internal problems.

Under the changes, the five new ETCs to be launched next year will all have broader remits than at present and will include for the first time an explicit focus on material flow, biodiversity and climate change.

Thus an air and climate change ETC will take over from current networks on air quality and air emissions; a new water ETC will incorporate existing ETCs on inland waters and marine waters; a terrestrial environment ETC will take over from the existing land cover network and the now closed soil network; a new nature protection and biodiversity network will incorporate the existing nature conservation ETC, and a new waste and material flow ETC will incorporate the existing waste network. The existing "catalogue of data sources" ETC is to continue its work.

EEA officials and scientists involved in ETCs have high hopes for the new system, which they say will improve efficiency, effectiveness and manageability. The overhaul was "just what's needed," said one source. The new system would enable much better support to legislative processes such as the water framework directive by replacing the two separate water-focused networks with a single one, said another.

The process has its critics, some of whom claim that the bidding process for institutions to lead each ETC is not really competitive. Several scientists told ENDS Daily that only one bid had in fact been received for each of the five new centres.

The EEA is due to announce results of the bidding next month, but ENDS Daily can report the likely winners for at least four ETCs as follows: current air quality leader RIVM of the Netherlands will take over the air and climate change ETC; Water Research Centre of the UK, which already leads on inland waters, will take over water; France's Natural History Museum will continue to lead on nature protection and biodiversity; and the Danish environmental protection agency and Copenhagen city council will continue to lead on waste issues.

Follow Up:
EEA, tel: +45 33 36 71 00.

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