Europe and Canada addressing global challenges together: science diplomacy as a strategic approach

S4D4C has pulled together a panel for the 12th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2020). The event took place during the opening parallel sessions on November 16. CSPC ran from November 16-20 as an online conference; it hosted participants and presenters from five continents in more than 65 panel sessions. It was an inclusive, non-partisan, (inter)national forum uniting stakeholders, strengthening dialogue, and enabling action with respect to current and emerging issues in Canadian science, technology, and innovation policy.

Our session, which was set in the  “Science and International Affairs and Security” track and kindly supported by CSPC volunteer Anne Ballantyne, Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, brought together Izaskun Lacunza, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and Mitchell Young, Charles University, from S4D4C, with Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, University of Tromso and work package leader in our sister project InsSciDE, and Martina Desole, Agenzia per la Promozione della Ricerca Europea and coordinator of the ERA-CAN initiative as well as Remi Quiron, inaugural Chief Scientist of Quebec and the President of the three Board of Directors of the Fonds de recherche du Québec, Canada. The panel was moderated and organised by Elke Dall, Centre for Social Innovation and S4D4C coordinator and Lorenzo Melchor, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, S4D4C partner.



The panel was set to address Europe and Canada share many historical, economic, and sociopolitical ties. Both the European Union and Canada have a strong global presence based especially on their economic power, which is currently contested in the polarized world, thus we see a growing importance of their soft-power assets. The role of science, technology, and knowledge, is, although consistent, still not fully leveraged as compared to the hard power assets or other soft-power elements such as tourism or development aid. This is even though the range of international scientific cooperation between the EU and Canada is increasing steadily to the point that there are prospects for Canada officially joining the upcoming Horizon Europe.

The European Union has been promoting a global strategy with an increasing weight of science diplomacy and supported research projects which form a “EU science diplomacy cluster” focusing on the past, present and future of the interface between culture, science, technology, and international affairs. In this panel, two of these cluster projects will participate: S4D4C and InsSciDE. EU and Canada also practice intensive cooperation and programme level cooperation. In this panel, we bring practitioners of this cooperation and strategy/theory of science diplomacy together.

Global challenges are wicked problems that require (1) scientific and technical solutions, (2) multilateralism to broker global policy implementation, and (3) solid interactive spaces that facilitate knowledge exchange between both crucial dimensions. COVID-19 has embodied the perils of a global challenge that has suffered from a deficient multilateral response, at the expense of deep public health and socioeconomic crises across nation-states. This initial response by national governments contrasts with the increasing international scientific cooperation from national and international research and health organisations to understand the disease and develop a vaccine, eventually showing frictions between techno-nationalism and techno-globalism. While the global approach of science to the pandemics has not been able to foster a global coordinated political response, the crisis opens an opportunity to implement better cooperation between EU and Canada, better global governance mechanisms to tackle not only recurring outbreaks of this pandemic but also other global challenges, such as other infectious diseases, climate change, energy sources, etc. We make the argument that science diplomacy can foster global joint responses to global challenges. In the panel, the panelists investigated how and had a closer look at EU-Canada relations, joint priorities and joint funding instruments.

Summary of the event: 

After a welcoming message, Elke gave the floor to the panelists and asked them to start the discussion with an introductory statement.

Mitchell, who was born in the United-states but has lived half of his life in the Czech Republic, is strongly attached to this bi-Atlantic connection between North-America and the EU. When considering specifically Canada and the EU, the story of collaboration has been one of stability and shared values. Both are far from being ‘hot heads’ in the international scene, nor are they military super-powers. Both entities have been able to develop other ways than force to express leadership on a global level and that binds them together. Thus, it is very interesting to look at paths for further cooperation.

For Rasmus, the EU and Canada have a lot in common. Both are actors which are contributing to help the world through their development aid, peacekeeping activities etc. Canada also has strong traditional ties with specific (also former) EU member states, with the UK or with France- and the francophonie. Those relationships are embedded in a broader international framework which is affected by the actions of other actors; for example, the US is a key partner for both entities.

Remi focused his introductory statement on the need for more science diplomacy which has been made more evident due to the COVID-19 crisis. Science diplomacy has been developing in the past decade, it is now time to do more and better use of this great tool. One element should be part of the focus of science diplomacy developments between Canada and the EU: Brain exchange! We need more people moving and exchanging best practices between Canada and the EU.

Izaskun then took the floor and elaborated on the S4D4C work on science diplomacy. In the last years, the project has been advocating for a European science diplomacy that contributes to tackling Global Challenges, this is at the core of S4D4C’s objectives. But while S4D4C is an EU project, the European vision is incomplete without international and multi-approach and thus ties with other key countries like Canada are absolutely necessary for science diplomacy to contribute to solving global challenges.

Martina highlighted the shared values of the EU and Canada, especially when it comes to working together in the research field: both have a strong commitment to openness transparency, ethics, inclusiveness and integrity of research.

At this point in the session, Lorenzo asked the audience to answer a few questions:

Which Global Challenges are the most important to be addressed by the EU-Can cooperation?

or Which aspects are most important in promoting the science diplomacy approach?  to which the audience responded: ‘Fostering collaboration between nations’ and ‘scientific cooperation’.

After the introductory statement, Mitchell shared with the audience the drivers and trends that we can observe in science diplomacy. We have seen developing two contradictory trends: on one hand growing geopolitical tensions, and on the other the expansion of collaborative efforts. How do we see these tensions playing out in terms of COVID-19?

In the S4D4C policy brief Building Better Science Diplomacy for Global Challenges: insights from the COVID-19 crisis’, the importance of narratives is highlighted. At the beginning of the crisis, there was a common narrative of social distancing and flattening the curve – which has since been lost. During the second wave, we see the rise of politicization, misinformation and distrust. We have gone from hopefulness in international collaborations to a reversion to the status quo made of zero-sum politics. We now face a challenge: how do we make science politically useful but keep it a-political?

This analysis received some attention on social media:

During the crisis, open science has been a useful tool to do so, thanks to a pre-negotiated agreement on data sharing in public health emergencies. This is an example of science diplomacy which highlights the need to develop frameworks in advance of crisis situations.

Finally, Mitchell reflected on the meaning and use of power. Power has multiple facets, it is not always about having power over other but it can be the power to set new agendas and to solve problems- the EU and Canada cooperation should further develop this road.

Following this intervention, Elke asked Rasmus to elaborate on how to strategically address geopolitical shifts via science diplomacy.

Rasmus answered by an analysis fo the role of the US in international power dynamics.

The US have been exercising hegemonic power since the Cold War which was for long undisputed. But this is has been changing and we see a return of geopolitics because of internal US affairs and the rise of other powers. There is a difference between addressing challenges when you have one superpower to set the agenda or no real leaders, or multiple ones. Western societies are not in the shape they used to be (Brexit, US election) and there is no longer a strong western leadership. – Canada and the EU have to try to find a way to deal with that and learn to work towards solving global challenges in a weakened West.

Lorenzo also inquired about the ‘US-question’ seeking impressions from the audience. The attendees valued the US as quite central to the EU-CA cooperation.

Remi expressed that, since the pandemic, global science has never been more visible. In Quebec, it opened doors for scientists to many government offices. It is now much easier to discuss and connect with high-level policymakers regarding scientific findings. Thus, we have to do the same for other challenges. The objective is to find a way to work together on SDGs as quickly as during the pandemic and bring on board the Global South. This should include everyone, and bring on board citizens as global challenges affect everyone on this planet.

There is thus ground for hope that can be harnessed from the pandemic. However, even prior to the pandemic some good practices can already be identified. Martina stressed the success of several cooperation projects between the EU and Canada such at the ERACAN project which has developed into a platform fostering connections between researchers and dialogue with policymakers. Such intermediaries’ work is important to support the policy makers in identifying key shared priorities for research funding: Horizon 2020 is open to the world and Canadian funding is financing researchers in that framework. Those initiatives to support cooperation (even in already mature fields) is important to address niche topics.

Another example is the pilot flagship on data management in health (including also both EU and Canada funding) which had a huge success creating cascading effects in other projects.

Thematic alignment, consistent funding, networks of researchers and practitioners of science diplomacy like ourselves, the involvement of different levels of government are all important factors for the success of EU-Canada cooperation.

Those ‘success stories’ help us learn from good practices that are needed to foster science diplomacy even more. Izaskun and the S4D4C partners have approached this need to foster science diplomacy practices by first establishing a vision of what science diplomacy ought to be in order to address global challenges.

Science diplomacy is a tool for something else: it can be used to address national competitiveness or for scientific excellence. In S4D4C, science diplomacy is seen as a tool for addressing global challenges. Izaskun expressed that the S4D4C vision was built in several steps. During the first S4D4C global meeting, the Madrid Declaration for science diplomacy was created which highlights the need to strengthen science diplomacy, which is defined in an inclusive way and brings together (implicitly and explicitly) practitioners of science and diplomacy. It is defined around the value that it can bring to citizens, via addressing global challenges.

The second S4D4C networking meeting focused on the EU and asked how could the Madrid Declaration can be translated in a science diplomacy strategy? This conference resulted in the report Calling for a Systemic Change. Towards a European Union Science Diplomacy for Addressing Global Challenges which further details our vision for science diplomacy in the EU. The reports identifies stoppers and drivers of science diplomacy and makes a several key recommendations. The EU is a key global actor for solving global challenges which should further recognize the importance of scientific knowledge. Science diplomacy can become a fundamental asset to strengthen our links with other countries like Canada and collaborate together in solving global challenges.

Our final conference, which will take place online from the 15th March to Friday 19th March 2021, will set up the path for the continuation of science diplomacy in the EU and with the world.

For Rasmus, the policies that foster this vision of science diplomacy should focus on enhancing human capital and talent and investments in training. The circulation of students is highly valuable – PhD students can move quite cheaply and set the basis for long-term engagement and connection. Both in the EU and Canada, we receive many researchers from the rest of the world; we should make use of these connections and learn from those students.

Izaskun followed up highlighting an idea in reference to the former Commissioner Moedas, to set up a Global Research Area, akin to the European Research Area, but on the international level. Ideally it would have common financial resources for research and common rules. She expressed a feeling that this is a bit of a ‘dreamer idea’ but we should pursue it!

This was supported by Remi, who signaled the openness of the province of Quebec to such a project. Other types of collaboration could be thematically focused, further encouraging strategic cooperation on climate change, or the Arctic, for example.

Another instrument that has been working well in Quebec is the set up of science offices all over the world, which has received a lot of application from STEM scientists eager to be more involved in science diplomacy.

Lorenzo and Elke then asked the panelist to reflect on how to avoid the politicization of science.

Mitchell recalled an expression of Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who postulated that ‘Europe needs to learn to speak the language of power‘. This put forward the intent to put interests before values. At the same time, norms and values are central to EU foreign policy. The question remains, how to build foreign policy on norms. The world is less Western than before and Europea and Canada need to figure out how to deal with countries that might not share our values. We need to think about using the language of science and the power of knowledge: is this a way out? Mitchell suggested that yes, maybe if we focus on the shared values of science to find common grounds in particular when other values are not so coherent.

The diminishing influence of the West on the rest of the world brings back the question of US influence. For Rasmus, Nordic countries have a tendency (as other EU countries) to think that knowledge can cancel out power: but knowledge is expensive – and therefore we need big players like the US to underwrite international organizations like the UN system or NATO. The role of the US remaining uncertain, it is important to nurture and grow the cooperation between Canada and the EU.

Based on a question from the audience asked what would change if Canada would become an Associated Country to the EU Research Framework Programmes, Martina highlighted that the framework programmes are at the moment open to associated countries which are close to our borders and share a set of values and that indeed, opening to countries like Canada is currently under negotiations between both parties. This new kind of association would mean that each country gives a portion of its GDP to the programme. The Canadian government is considering to go forward with association but that might not yet happen at the very beginning of the new programme cycle, Horizon Europe. If this happens it will have an impact for science diplomacy as it will enable Canada to be part of the decision-making process of the work programme of the programme. However, if Canada decides against it, there are a lot of existing collaboration that can be built on.

With the participants, the moderators concluded that

All in all, the EU-Canada collaboration is on good track and science diplomacy has the potential to bring these collaborations to even higher levels.


S4D4C Team

Posted by S4D4C Team