WSDS Student Takes’ is a two-edition series in 2020 and 2021 written by alumni of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School in the weeks and months following their completion of the program.

This article is by WSDS 2020 alumni who belonged to ’Team Biodiversity/Le Roux ‘, named after the historical case study of science diplomacy on which certain modules were based and its author.

Learn more about WSDS20 and WSDS21 here!

Towards a Joint Approach for EU Science Diplomacy

By Zane Šime and Muhammad Adeel

Team Le Roux analyzed the InsSciDE work of Muriel Le Roux, which depicts how environmental and health diplomacy crossed ways in biodiversity negotiations when French researchers became ’precursors of a new diplomacy’ in newly-independent Madagascar and post-conflict Uganda. Among the members of Team Le Roux, were two participants of the Science Diplomacy & Leadership Workshop 2018 organised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington D.C. Their earlier science diplomacy training mingled with natural sciences, non-profit and legislative backgrounds of the other members to enrich deliberations in the team. This recap highlights just a few points from the team’s thought-provoking discussions.

Regulated biodiversity
Biodiversity and its affiliated strands are already highly regulated in the EU and are attached to a complex history. With the intent to apply current context and provide a focused discussion, Team Le Roux agreed to centralise the two policy and strategy deliverables of WSDS around genetic biodiversity. The regulatory landscape surrounding genetic diversity as well as technologies such as genetic engineering, genome editing and nanotechnology provided fertile grounds to debate the possibility of harmonising regulatory approaches among the EU member states. The key biodiversity issue discussed was the role of science and socio-economic considerations in developing a risk assessment framework. Currently, the regulations are marred by a trans-Atlantic divide, with asynchronous regulations impacting agricultural trade.

Muriel Le Roux’s own work has provided a template on how to pose the fundamental regulatory question,“What needs to be regulated?” with the intention of protecting biodiversity and keeping in mind the consent of stakeholders, including farmers. Science diplomacy fits in to bring a network approach for all concerned parties and provides a platform for harmonisation. Furthermore, her work provided us with great insight on developing a networked approach to stakeholder engagement. In the case of regulations, where contentious issues can possibly obstruct discourse, Le Roux’s emphasis on an evidence driven design is the key.

Science diplomacy as an improvised practice
In the EU context, science diplomacy has an internal and external dimension. It was easy to discern the two in the hypothetical ’fragmented Europe’ scenario, assigned to our team in the future scenarios exercise, led by Björn Fägersten.

States failing to agree on a strong common position and joint approach evidently poses a challenge for the EU’s actorness and capacity to project coherent and clear science diplomacy. ‘Fragmented Europe’ limits the scope of science diplomacy to meet internal and external necessities.

In foro interno, science diplomacy serves as a consolidating force among European countries themselves. In the ‘fragmented Europe’ scenario, the EU suffers from a lack of strong and consolidated science diplomacy potential due to persisting disagreements among its member states.

In foro externo, the ‘fragmented Europe’ science diplomacy follows the political whims of its enthusiastic proponents and advocates who adhere their improvised maneuvers to either subnational, national science diplomacy standpoints or certain ad hoc EU considerations. Any potential of a joint approach is at the mercy of the EU leading countries that have been able to consolidate certain like-mindedness among a limited pool of the EU member states.

One of the contemporary forms of like-minded alliances resembling the provided ‘fragmented Europe’ context would be the Hanseatic League 2.0. It leads to a rather simple observation that EU science diplomacy is as strong and coherent as the EU institutions and member states wish it to be.

Going beyond the hypothetical WSDS scenario, today implicit EU science diplomacy is an improvised bottom-up driven expert-level debate and, to a limited extent, a practice of sorts that somewhat adheres to the three taxonomies of science for diplomacy, diplomacy for science and science in diplomacy, defined by the Royal Society and the AAAS. Its evolution into a solid and structured diplomatic resource is up to EU institutions and member states to pursue. Science diplomacy could be transformed from an eclectic improvisation into a distinct asset of the EU diplomatic toolbox. It could enhance the EU’s actorness. It would help to avoid time and resource costly consultations on each and every ad-hoc science diplomacy-related initiative and come closer to the structured and routinised coordination patterns presently guiding the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures or the European Open Science Cloud, just to name two dynamic examples.

The key question is how to build EU science diplomacy as a complementary and nimble tool with clear added value that doesn’t overlap or duplicate the existing initiatives. With so many EU member states and EU institutions being preoccupied with an efficient allocation of resources and capacities, it is a consideration that cannot be easily brushed aside.

This article is a part of ’WSDS Student Takes’, a series of articles written by attendees of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School 2020.

This article is a part of ’WSDS Student Takes’, a series of articles written by attendees of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School 2020.

Published 7 August 2020

WSDS20 Student Takes: Towards a Joint Approach for EU Science Diplomacy