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Research and innovation

Science diplomacy

What it is, background and developing a European framework.

Towards European Science Diplomacy

There are various definitions of science diplomacy, but for practical purposes, it can be defined as the direct or indirect use of science, scientific knowledge and scientific cooperation to advance diplomatic goals.

Science Diplomacy is part of the EU’s priority of making Europe stronger in the world. The Global Approach to Research and Innovation, the EU’s strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation, advocates that a stronger focus on science and technology in the EU’s foreign and security policies in terms of science diplomacy would help the EU to project soft power and pursue our economic interests and fundamental values more effectively, meeting demand and interest from partner countries and playing to the EU’s strengths as a research and innovation powerhouse.

In its Conclusions on the Global Approach to Research and Innovation, the Council called on the Commission and the European External Action Service to develop a European Science Diplomacy Agenda.

In addition, an increasing number of recent EU policy documents in the foreign and security policy domain have made explicit or implicit reference to Science Diplomacy and the need for foreign policy to be based on the best possible evidence.

Examples include: the Joint Communication on strengthening the EU’s contribution to rules-based multilateralism; the Joint Communication on a stronger EU engagement for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic; the Council conclusions on Climate and Energy Diplomacy; the Council Conclusions on EU Digital Diplomacy (July 2022, June 2023).

Developing a potential framework

The first Biennial report on the implementation of the Global Approach to research and innovation acknowledged that science diplomacy efforts in the EU remain largely uncoordinated, lacking synergies and an EU-wide approach. Such shortcomings create vulnerabilities in a rapidly changing geopolitical, scientific and technological environment, with other international actors using science diplomacy in a much more targeted manner.

Supported by the ERA Forum Sub-Group on the Global Approach and a Steering Team consisting of the main stakeholder communities, the Commission in consultation with the European External Action Service is currently considering a potential framework for European science diplomacy.

From discussions held with different groups of stakeholders, four work strands emerged:

  1. How to use science diplomacy strategically to tackle geopolitical challenges in a fragmented, multipolar world
  2. How to make European diplomacy more strategic, effective, and resilient through scientific evidence and foresight
  3. How to strengthen science diplomacy in EU and Member State diplomatic missions and foster the EU’s global science diplomacy outreach
  4. How to build capacity for European science diplomacy

Following an informal discussion at the level of EU Research Ministers on 27-28 of July 2023, it is envisaged to develop concrete actions in dedicated working groups, with active participation from both the science and diplomacy spheres at EU and Member State level.

These working groups will play a key role in delivering concrete proposals and in preparing the first European Science Diplomacy Conference planned on 18-19 December 2023 in Madrid as an event of the Spanish Presidency of the European Council.

European science diplomacy: background

The term “science diplomacy” appeared for the first time in the 2012 Commission Communication Enhancing and focusing EU international cooperation in research and innovation: A strategic approach, which stated that science diplomacy will use international cooperation in research and innovation as an instrument of soft power and a mechanism for improving relations with key countries and regions. Good international relations may, in turn, facilitate effective cooperation in research and innovation”.

This concept was further developed in the Communication  Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World: A Vision for Europe (

2016), which stated: International research and innovation cooperation leading to common standards, scientific exchange and mobility, the sharing of resources and facilities, and scientific advice to diplomats and diplomat scientists should help underpin good governance and policy-making and build mutual understanding and trust”.

In 2017, the European Commission commissioned the study Tools for an EU Science Diplomacy which concluded that science diplomacy efforts in Europe remain largely uncoordinated. The study therefore called for a proper EU science diplomacy strategy and related action plan to underpin the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Horizon 2020 projects, outcomes and Science Diplomacy Task Force

In the following years the European Commission funded three dedicated research projects under the Horizon 2020 programme:

These projects  enhanced our understanding of European science diplomacy, explored options and developed training material as well as position papers such as the Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy. This has led to the establishment of the EU Science Diplomacy Alliance, gathering some of the most important academic players in the field.

Further input was delivered by the Science Diplomacy Task Force of the Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation (SFIC), which in early 2020 prepared an Input Paper proposing to promote a clearer and more strategic role of EU Science Diplomacy, and suggesting among other things, the development of an EU Science Diplomacy Platform and Roadmap.