Observations on Science Diplomacy in the Danube Region – an event report

On 30/31 October 2019, the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS, presided by Eva Zažimalová) in cooperation with the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (EASA) and ELI Beamlines, organised the 10th Danube Academies Conference in Prague. The meeting was dedicated to two broad topics: Science Diplomacy and Research Infrastructures. The Danube Region is an important macro-region in Europe, as confirmed by Commissioner Johannes Hahn in a recorded welcome to the participants shared by EASA President Felix Unger.

The EU Science Diplomacy Cluster projects S4D4C and InsSciDE contributed to the discussion with representatives of the Czech science system, the Academies of Sciences and Arts of the wider Danube Region, and invited diplomats. The lively session on science diplomacy in Europe chaired by Hana Sychrová (CAS) shed light on different perspectives:

  • Building up soft skills for science diplomacy to increase the soft power and multilateral cooperation (Petr Kaiser, MFA of the Czech Republic)
  • Strengthening the united voice of science in Europe through the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and other sources of independent science advise for policy audiences such as the SAPEA consortium or the IAP network (Nina Hobbhahn)
  • Dealing with uncertainty, foresight for policy making and contributions of the Joint Research Centre, for example its scientific support to the Danube Region, with a flagship report on China, the Enlightenment 2.0 research programme, the Foresight Competence Center, etc. (Miroslav Veskovic)
  • A thumbnail history of science academies creating and sustaining science diplomacy and upcoming activities of the InsSciDE project, including an invitation to nominate a reference person (historian) for each academy and candidates to attend the summer schools (Claire Mays)
  • Using science diplomacy for addressing global challenges and preliminary results of the S4D4C project such as the complexity of the actor networks and interplay of narratives, the untapped potential of the social sciences and the opportunities of unintended consequences and implicit science diplomacy (Mitchell Young).
  • The EU Strategy for the Danube Region as an enabling factor for science diplomacy and the de-facto science diplomacy in the region that does not always fit into classical definitions, including preliminary results of S4D4C in relation to a conceptual broadening (Elke Dall and Martina Hartl). The difficulties identified in relation to the definition and use of the term “science diplomacy” were echoed by several other presenters.
  • Science diplomacy in the 21stcentury seen from the UK Science and Innovation Network in Central and Eastern Europe, an interesting topic as “the UK is leaving the EU but not Europe” (Otakar Fojt)
  • Organisation and challenges of the French science diplomacy, which also includes French funding in a call for scientific cooperation in the Danube Region (Mathieu Wellhoff)
  • A pilot project to develop Czech science diplomacy, in “start-up nation” Israel. R&D&I Counsellor Delana Mikolášová shared her activities and tools as she creates a role that should spread also to Africa, Latin America, and Asia-based embassies: negotiating innovation agreements, informing on grant schemes, providing contacts, agendas and networking services for Czech academics and government officials visiting Israel.

In other sessions, topics like Danube countries success in the EU Framework Programmes or ERC, the set-up of a transnational pension solution for researchers, concrete examples from Serbia and Hungary, as well as the role of research infrastructures in cooperation were discussed. Ambassador Virginia Hesse of Uganda outlined European-African Academies of Science cooperation on climate change response (biodiversity, food and water security), stating “we all created the global problems. It’s our joint responsibility to find solutions – now or never.

Representatives of the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade and Foreign Ministry (Karel Havliček and Martina Tauberóva) highlighted the ambition to become an innovation leader – “Czech Republic: Country For the Future” – which includes active science policy and increased international cooperation, with an emphasis also on the complex relationship between science and diplomacy and ‘nation branding’. In the conclusions and discussions, it was also clear that the landscape of competition and cooperation has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Countries that were once competitors are now partners within the EU, and relationships to the US, China, African countries are changing. Academic institutions are crucial to reach mutual understanding.

The cooperation in the Danube Region puts countries together that are Member States with enlargement and neighbourhood countries, and brings countries into the focus of bilateral and multilateral collaboration that otherwise would probably not have been priorities. Several initiatives have been launched in the priority areas of the joint strategy related e.g. to knowledge society, competitiveness and skills, such as for example: regular multilateral calls for funding; capacity building and networking projects such as the Danube-INCO.NET; a regular award for extraordinary scientific achievements and impact in relation to the region and many others which tick the boxes in relation to definitions and role conceptions for science diplomacy outlined also in the S4D4C State-of-the-Art report. The stakeholders stressed the mutual and reciprocal benefits from cooperation and sharing in the context of upstream/downstream cooperation in the Danube Region and transfer lessons learnt to the Alpine macro region (as discussed by Harald Pechlaner and Ronald Benedikter on the second day of the event) and the joint objective to increase the profile and position of Europe in a knowledge based world.

Posted by Elke Dall