What are the EU practices in Science Diplomacy? S4D4C Interactive Webinar Series 3

In the last years, the European Commission has strongly embraced science diplomacy as a fundamental tool of external relations and as a means to leverage the impact of European research and innovation framework programmes. Although the EU has engaged in international scientific cooperation since the first research and innovation framework programme in 1984, it is around 2016 when both the European External Action Service and the General Directorate for Research and Innovation started identifying science as a fundamental asset for Europe’s foreign policy.

Embedded into the “3 Os” (Open to the world, Open innovation and Open science),vision of the previous  Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science  the European Union science diplomacy is presented as an opportunity for the EU to lead a multilateral and science-informed strategy to solve global challenges. However, a number of challenges need to be faced when moving from this vision to practice such as how to carve out a specific role for the EU that complements the science diplomacy policies of its Member States, or how to integrate science diplomacy within the overall EU´s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy driven by the European External Action Service (EEAS), just to name a few.

S4D4C has dedicated a whole module in its European Science Diplomacy Online Course to delve on this topic. Module 4 “How Does the European Union Practice Science Diplomacy?” focuses on the political structure of the EU, the EU science and innovation system, and the current state of the EU science diplomacy ecosystem. While science diplomacy requires a global effort, it is interesting to look at specific regions and key actors that shape the practices of science diplomacy. The information found in this module is complemented by the recent article provided to S4D4C by Commissioner on Innovation, Research, Education Youth and Culture, Mariya Gabriel, on the importance of science diplomacy for Europe and the world.

Module 4 was at the focus of the third episode of the webinar series. This time again, around 150 participants joined the event. In the opening statement given by Laure-Anne Plumhans, S4D4C team member at the coordinating institution Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI), some of the key objectives of S4D4C were highlighted; to build knowledge, to create a community and to provide trainings on science diplomacy in Europe and beyond. To address those objectives we launched earlier this year our online course on European science diplomacy, around which we wish to create a community building also on the interactive webinars series.

The webinar continued with an ice-breaking session, moderated by Ana Elorza Moreno, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. The audience was invited to answer a few questions on their professional background, geographical location, interests in different science diplomacy-related fields and finally on which word they associate with the EU.


The ice-breaking session was followed by the panel discussion which hosted three guest speakers with specific expertise in various aspects of science diplomacy in the EU context and was chaired by S4D4C team member Izaskun Lacunza, Head of the International Projects Unit at the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and co-author of module 4.

Martina Hartl, Chair of the Strategic Forum for International scientific and technological Cooperation, brought her perspective from the interface between member-states and European Union science policy.

Jan Marco Müller, Science Adviser at the Strategic Policy Planning Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS), represented the EU institutional perspective. So did Laurent Bochereau, Head of the Science and Technology and Other EU Policies Section at the European Union Delegation to the Russian Federation, which contributed to the panel with his specific expertise working with third countries from a European position.

In the first part of the webinar, Izaskun asked the panelists to reflect on a few key questions. She first asked them about their vision for science diplomacy in the EU and whether they see science diplomacy as an opportunity.

Martina first took the floor and expressed her opinion regarding the lessons that can be learned from the COVID-19 crisis, which showcases the limits of our European cooperation. Science diplomacy is an opportunity to overcome the very protectionist behaviour that EU Member States and third countries often take during a crisis.  A greater science diplomacy emphasis in Europe would be beneficial to strengthen our capacity to respond to global challenges.

For Jan Marco, the EU is a peace project between nations. Even if science diplomacy is recent, science has been a driver of European integration. Unsurprisingly, the Joint Research Centre was already mentioned in the Rome Treaty. Thus, science diplomacy already has a place in the EU, which should be fostered even further.


Science is the key activity which stands up for multilateralism: it is a force for good!

Laurent approached the question by first highlighting the 2012 communication on the internationalisation of research. In this communication, the key focus was set on fostering international cooperation in order to tackle global challenges, strengthen EU competitiveness and to support EU external policies. The concept of science diplomacy already existed but the focus was not on really on it. However, the drafting of a new communication for a global approach to research is near: This is a golden opportunity to include science diplomacy as a building block of the EU strategy. Beyond the need to include science diplomacy in the global approach of the EU on research, Laurent also reflected on the EU relations to Russia, where he holds office. For him, a few key areas need more collaboration between Russia and the EU: large research infrastructure, civil aviation, health (infectious diseases), climate change and collaboration on fostering higher education development.

After the first reflections of our panelists, Izaskun asked them to present the institutions they are working for and to elaborate on their relevance for science diplomacy.

Jan Marco introduced the EEAS (European External Action Service) and outlined three main things to know about the institution: 1) it is a young (only 10 years old) institution which has, on the one hand, less gravitational force than older institutions, but on the other hand, greater room for development since a lot of things are still evolving. 2) For historic reasons foreign policy is a bit complicated in the EU: EEAS is separated from the European Commission but nevertheless involved a lot in the Commission procedures, and it is composed of a diverse staff out of which 1/3 is from national foreign ministries. This brings us to point 3): The EEAS is intertwined between the EU and the national level which is part of the reality of the European project and makes it at times challenging to operate but also allows us to benefit from many diverse inputs and opinions.

The EEAS has many different roles and personalities working for them as foreign policy means tackling various topics in different regional and cultural contexts. For example, right next to his office as Science Advisor, sits the Religious Advisor to the EEAS. A variety of expertise is needed.

Martina addresses in her function both the EU and the national level. She is based at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research as deputy head of unit and also Chair of SFIC. This EU forum aims to exchange at bilateral, multilateral and EU level to find activities that we can do together. While still acknowledging the needs and wants of member states, it is no longer any country just doing what is good for them but trying to find grounds for collaboration.

Finally, Laurent explained the role of the EU delegations. The EU delegations are kind of the embassies of the EU whose staff comes from the EEAS headquarters and from national diplomatic corps. The delegations deal with different subjects and collaborate with embassies of all member states present in the respective country as well as European businesses and other institutions. They also interact with the key ministries in the country where they are based.

The third question, addressed the EU funding programmes for research and innovation, what they are and how they work. Martina presented the three pillars of the Horizon 2020 funding programme, this information is also explained in detail in module 4 of our online course. She expressed her vision for the next funding programme Horizon Europe, starting 2021, which ought to harness the reality of global challenges and the need to even connect further with the rest of the world. The international component is key in science diplomacy and will be further addressed in Horizon Europe. Together with S4D4C, an attempt was made to see where in the framework programme topics of relevance for science diplomacy could be supported. The article is available here.

Her message was supported by Laurent and Jan Marco, who emphasised the international component of the framework programme. Laurent reminded the audience that framework programmes are open to all other countries, and will continue to be open.

To close the panel, Izaskun asked the panellists to state what they would like for the EU to achieve in terms of science diplomacy.

Laurent reflected on the COVID-19 crisis and that we have not learned enough from the first wave, as we still struggle to combine scientific evidence to inform policies in a coordinated manner in the EU. Competition instead of collaboration is often the rule, and this is especially evident when looking at the ‘vaccines race’. The EU has been calling for an international response focused on open access and vaccines to go to those that need it most. We need to learn from the current crisis, and collaborate within the EU and with our partners.

For Jan Marco, the golden age of science diplomacy was five years ago with the launch of the SDGs, the conclusion of the Paris Agreement etc. Now when looking at 2020, we see the rise of nationalist sentiments and the blocking of international cooperation. The EU, together with its partners, needs to move beyond that phase and find again grounds for international cooperation.

Martina closed the panel hoping for:

the science and policy sphere to understand each other in a deeper way, scientists need to be consulted but policymakers should consider that science cannot provide ready-made solutions, good science takes time.


During the panel, the chat was also being used by our participants which could ask questions that were answered directly by our team and other members of the audience, as well as at the end of the panel during the Q&A session.

While the webinar focused on the EU, it also provided opportunities to reflect on new science diplomacy approaches, detached from past practices of science diplomacy linked to colonialist ‘discoveries’ and imperialists power structure. This statement was further supported by S4D4C Team member Marga Gual, who stressed that part of this history must be recognized in order to move towards a better EU science diplomacy. InsSciDE, S4D4C sister project, offers a first look into this painful history with one of its historical case studies about scientists’ role in the “scramble for Africa”.

However, this does not disqualify EU science diplomacy as an important process to look at; rather its past and its consequences should be acknowledged. Lorenzo Melchor stressed that the focus of this webinar was set on the EU but that our course and further webinars are also addressing other global partners and regional practices.

In the second part of the webinar, participants were allocated into several break out rooms and were invited by S4D4C team member Cristina Fernandez-Garcia (FECYT) to take part in a “common pot game”. The game asked participants to take the role of fantasy countries and to negotiate a research and innovation agreement with the also fictitious ”Kommission”. Two challenges stood before the participants, first to agree on which role was going to be played by whom, and then to negotiate for an agreement given their respective priorities and budgets.

A great majority of the groups reached an agreement and enjoyed the interaction..

After the breakout session, our panelists reflected on how negotiations actually take place in real life. Martina stressed that negotiations are usually much tougher, cooperation is not always the rule. For example in the negations that took place for Horizon Europe, it took more than two years and a few hundred meetings to agree on a joint programme. Once it had been agreed upon by the member states, the parliament and the Commission and several other institutions and interest groups also have to endorse the proposal which can prove to be a long and tedious process. In this complicated context, more science diplomacy can only help!

This concluded our third webinar on the EU practices of science diplomacy.

The fourth webinar takes place on the 19th of November, the agenda is available here.

To register for other coming webinars click here.

Supporting references

For more information on how the EU practices science diplomacy we recommend visiting our online course:

as well as reading additional references shown below:

  • de San Román, Alea; and Schunz, Simon (2017). “Understanding European Union Science Diplomacy”. In: Journal of Common Market Studies, 56(2), 247-266.
  • European Commission (2016). “Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World – a vision for Europe“. Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Brussels doi:10.2777/061652. (Link)
  • European Commission (2019a). “The EU as a stronger global actor. Towards a more united, stronger and more democratic union“.doi:10.2775/98393. (Link)
  • European Commission (2019b). “Final Reflections of the RISE Group“. Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts Group. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi:10.2777/485168. (Link)
  • Juncker, Claude (2018). “State of the Union 2018: Making the EU a stronger global actor – European Commission proposes more efficient decision-making in CFSP“. The EU as a stronger global actor. Towards a more united, stronger and more democratic union“, Press Release, Brussels: 12 September 2018. (Link)
  • Melchor, L; Elorza, A; and Lacunza, I (2020) Calling for a Systemic Change: Towards a European Union Science Diplomacy for Addressing Global Challenges. V 1.0. S4D4C Policy Report, Madrid: S4D4C. (Link)
  • Moedas, Carlos (2016). “Science Diplomacy in the European Union”, In: Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 5, No. 1 (March 2016). (Link).


S4D4C Team

Posted by S4D4C Team