Science diplomacy is not new, but it is more important than ever due to the scientific dimension of current global challenges. The COVID-19 crisis has also shown that cooperation at international level in research and innovation is more important than ever, including thorough open access to data and results. No nation, no country can tackle any of these global challenges alone. An important role for science diplomacy is to build bridges between science, technology and innovation practices, national interests, as well as global challenges.
There is currently a renewed interest in science diplomacy. It provides scientific advice to support foreign policy and facilitates international scientific cooperation that improves international relations. Moreover, science diplomacy has the potential, for the benefit of humanity worldwide, to deliver research results to solve global challenges through evidence-based policy-making.
As in every domain of human and institutional activities, science diplomacy is subject to subversive intrusion by disinformation and by ideology-driven approaches, including semantic manipulation. Therefore, scientists, diplomats and policymakers need to be equipped with skills to allow them to face an unprecedented scale of threats.
In this scenario, the European Commission is funding two sister projects exploring the complexity of science diplomacy: S4D4C and InsSciDE. Both projects collaborate with the SFIC Task Force for Science Diplomacy (SFIC – Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation, one of the configurations in the EU Council) (see also the Input Paper and the Working Paper).
In addition, the European Commission is supporting the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) consortium, which brings together over 100 academies, and learned societies across Europe, with the purpose of synthesising comprehensive scientific evidence for use by the European Commission’s independent Group of Chief Scientific Advisers (GCSA). Other notable organisations contributing to this field are the European Science Advice Forum (ESAF) as well as the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA).
Knowledge on science diplomacy has also been translated at EU-level into concrete actions.
Firstly, the European Commission has been at the forefront of supporting research and innovation, as well as coordinating European and global research efforts, including preparedness for COVID-19 pandemics. At the peak of the crisis, we established the Covid19 Data Platform to enable rapid collection and sharing of available research data, this is open to all our international partners.
Secondly, the Coronavirus Global Response, launched by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, is the global initiative for universal access to affordable coronavirus vaccination, treatment and testing. It culminated in a Global Pledging Summit on 27 June, with the participation of many world leaders. The summit realised a pledge for €15.9 billion to fight coronavirus.
Thirdly, another example of science diplomacy and international collaboration, is the Letter of Intent between the European Commission and Japan, which I signed with my Japanese counterpart on 26 May 2020 to strengthen cooperation in science, technology and innovation, and to enhance the synergies between the next EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe, and Moonshot, Japan’s research and development programme
Fourthly, science diplomacy also plays an essential role in our cooperation with Africa. In July, I co-hosted together with Sarah Agbor, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, the first ever Ministerial meeting between European and African Research Ministers , attended by delegations from 53 European Union and AU Member States. In view of creating a knowledge society and economy, we need to increasingly scale up this type of academic and scientific cooperation. By strengthening our R&I cooperation we provide concrete benefits for our people and societies.
In seeking to ensure further progress in science and technology throughout the 21st century, it is necessary to keep possible risks under proper control based on shared values, and to establish a common base for promoting science and technology. The 17th Annual Meeting of the Science and Technology for Society (STS) Forum (October 2020) in Kyoto, Japan, afforded further evidence of international collaboration in the field of research and innovation. In my opening speech I underlined that the crisis has been a wake-up call for more effective international technology cooperation and for building public trust in science.
Science and Technology is by its nature international and brings cooperation amongst different actors. Beyond these very concrete actions, there are three guiding principles that we will apply to our upcoming Research and Innovation Framework programme, Horizon Europe.
Firstly, promoting inter-disciplinary Research through new elements such as Clusters to tackle societal challenges and our Missions on sustainable cities, soils and food, climate, oceans and cancer that will involve citizens.
Secondly, joining forces and working together through joint research. I referred earlier to the example of the letter of intent signed with Japan. This could be done with other partners.
Thirdly, continuing our modus operandi of Open Science so that data can be accessible and reusable.
In addition, science can only work if it is embedded in a true scientific culture that respects fundamental values such as academic freedom. We have underlined this important element in our recent initiative European Research Area (ERA) Communication. We need the same values in science, diplomacy and politics.
Our goal should be to strengthen our cooperation in Research and Innovation, encouraging global framework conditions, to reach a Global Research Area. In this regard, I welcome our funded project S4D4C’s policy report “Calling for a Systemic Change. Towards a European Union Science Diplomacy for Addressing Global Challenges”.
More research, more knowledge, more education, more science communication and more science diplomacy will make us better prepared and more resilient to face the challenges to come. Our future is at stake.