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Research and innovation

Science diplomacy

What it is, projects and steps towards developing a European framework for science diplomacy

Science diplomacy in the Global Approach to Research and Innovation

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. For further background see the website of the European External Action Service.

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 highlighted  the importance of integrating the Global Approach in research and innovation in the EU's external action and 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:

Horizon 2020 projects

The Horizon 2020 programme funded 3 dedicated research projects on science diplomacy:

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 Scientific and Technological 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.

Developing a European framework for science diplomacy

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.

The need to act was underlined by EU Research Ministers at their meeting in Santander, Spain, on 28 July 2023, when science diplomacy was discussed for the first time at ministerial level.

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.

Four work strands emerged from discussions held with different groups of stakeholders:

  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

Informal working groups with active participation from both the science and diplomacy spheres at EU and Member State level 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.

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