Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions



Whereas science was long considered as a vehicle of knowledge, and not as the principle of an action, modern times have witnessed the development of sciences and technologies enabling mankind to act upon nature. However, in doing so, fresh problems and new concerns have arisen. From this observation was born the idea of technology assessment which appeared essential to scientific and political bodies. Mechanisms had to be put in place in order to control technical progress while, at the same time, anticipating its consequences.

In the early 1980’s, during a number of debates such as the orientations concerning nuclear, spatial or cable programmes, the French Parliament came to the conclusion that it was unable to assess Government decisions on the major directions of scientific and technological policy. It therefore decided to establish its own structure of assessment: the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment (Office Parlementaire d’Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques, OPECST).

The OPECST, which was set up by Law n° 83-609 of July 8, 1983, following a unanimous vote of Parliament, aims, within the terms of the Law, »to inform Parliament of the consequences of the choice of scientific and technological options, in particular, so as to enable it to make enlightened decisions«. To do this, it »collects information, launches study programmes and carries out assessments«.


The OPECST is an unusual structure within Parliament: its members, who are appointed so as to ensure proportional representation of the political groups, belong both to the National Assembly and to the Senate. It is composed of eighteen MPs and eighteen Senators; each member may be appointed as a rapporteur. A rapporteur is an MP or a Senator in charge of writing a report on a given subject.

The OPECST is chaired alternately for a period of three years, by a member of either assembly. Internal rules stipulate that the First Vice-President shall belong to the other Assembly.

The OPECST acts as an intermediary between the political world and the world of research. It must listen to researchers and requests authorized opinions. In order to carry out its task, the OPECST is assisted by a Scientific Council reflecting the diversity of scientific and technological disciplines in its very composition, as it is made up of twenty- four leading figures selected on account of their expertise.


Matters may be referred to the OPECST by the Bureau of either Assembly (upon its own initiative, upon the initiative of the chairman of a political group, or upon the initiative of 60 MPs or forty Senators), or by a committee.

Until now, the topics dealt with have belonged to four main areas: energy, environment, new technologies and life sciences.

Some matters referred to the OPECST have been reexamined for several years, such as problems connected with the safety and security of nuclear installations. Others have required the updating of one of the OPECST´s previous reports (development of the semiconductor sector, television with digital high-definition, high-activity nuclear waste, etc.). The renewal of referrals on such matters has enabled the OPECST to ensure a real follow-up of certain subjects.



Any matter referred to the OPECST leads to the appointment of one or more rapporteurs, exclusively selected amongst the members of the OPECST. Several study programmes have brought together an MP and a Senator.


Once appointed, the rapporteur first makes a feasibility study. This study aims at providing a snapshot of knowledge on the topic, determining possible research avenues, appreciating the possibilities of obtaining relevant results in the required time period and, last, determining the necessary means to start a study programme. The rapporteur then submits the conclusions of his feasibility study together with methodological remarks to the members of the OPECST. At that stage, he suggests either that the study should be closed, (this happens very rarely), or he proposes to modify the extent of the study (a study first dealing with biofuels was thus extended to prospects for development of non food agricultural products), or, much more frequently a study programme is set up that leads to the drawing?up of a report.


The rapporteur then goes ahead with hearings enabling him to gather, without exclusion, all opinions from concerned persons and organisations. He may also travel in France or abroad in order to inspect installations and firms connected with his work. Throughout his study, the rapporteur is assisted by a parliamentary civil servant and, if need be, by a study group made up of specialists from outside Parliament. He may also hire French or foreign free?lance experts and consultants for further investigation into specific items. He may likewise gather the opinions of trade unions, professional bodies, and organisations for the protection of the environment or consumer defence. However, the OPECST reports are not restricted to setting out the experts´ points of view. Their conclusions are the work of Parliamentarians and may go beyond merely informing, by including suggestions and recommendations. If the rapporteur deems it necessary, public hearings, open to the press, are organised to gather and confront the opinions of leading figures and organisations wishing to express themselves on the subject in discussion. The minutes of these hearings may then be annexed to the report.


The OPECST rapporteur have identical powers to financial rapporteurs: they may therefore carry out direct investigations on any State Agency and have access to any available document, with the exception of those dealing with military matters or State security. In addition, in the event of difficulties encountered in exercising their mission, the OPECST rapporteurs may request to be given the prerogatives granted to parliamentary committees of inquiry.


At the end of their work, the rapporteurs submit their draft report and their conclusions to the members of the OPECST. These conclusions are presented in such a way that they may be used directly for legislative work or budgetary discussion. Members of the OPECST must decide whether they publish these reports and all or part of the minutes of the hearings and the contributions by the experts. In this respect, the OPECST´s decisions are mostly unanimous and the consensus of its decisions is one of the OPECST´s main features.

The documents from the OPECST, which make up a special collection within all the parliamentary reports, are on sale at the »Boutique de l´Assemblée Nationale«, at the »Espace Librairie du Sénat« and at the Journal officiel, and are available on each Assembly website. Since its creation, the OPECST has published more than 90 reports.





First, Members of parliament. But also research institutions, academies of science, universities and civil society.


OPECST reports are published. A summary of 4 pages is usually also available. All its publications and the videos of its public hearings are posted on the National Assembly web site, section OPECST.


The Office has progressively become an acknowledged instrument of parliamentary action. Several laws make provision either for it to be informed of, or to participate in the appointment of representatives of Parliament to various bodies, or for its representation, by its President or one of its members, on the board of directors of various organisations. It has also become a special interlocutor for the scientific community as a whole and maintains close links with it. The events bringing together the OPECST and high level scientific organisations, Académies, CEA, Cité des Sciences et de l?Industrie, CNRS, etc.? are the true illustration of this. Every year, several conferences and seminars are organised by the OPECST, either in relation to one of its reports or on a scientific or technological subject. Finally, the OPECST also contributes to the development of international parliamentary relations and takes part in various congresses and events, in particular at a European level. Thus, over the last few years, we have seen the setting?up of an information and exchange network, the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA), bringing together the European organisations responsible for conducting scientific and technological assessments for national Parliaments and the European Parliament.

In the near future, the OPECST would like to continue to strengthen its various missions and, in particular, to play a role in furthering the exchange between the political and scientific worlds.


1. Study in progress

Outlook of the civil aviation for 2040.

2. Towards a new group of MPs members of OPECST, after the future parliamentary elections in June 2012. A new programme of studies will be then launched, probably in September-October 2012.


Office Parlementaire d´Evaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques
Assemblee Nationale
103, rue de
F-75355 Paris Cedex 07 SP

Chairperson: Mr Bruno Sido, Senator (Senate)
First Vice-Chairperson: Mr Claude Birraux, Deputy (National Assembly)

Fon +33 1 40 63 70 56, 65
Fax +33 1 40 63 70 95

Assemblée nationale : Mr Eric Szij
Sénat : Mr Philippe Dally

© EPTA, provided by ITA; version 19 Oct 2012