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.

S4D4C and InsSciDE as the joint European science diplomacy cluster contributed to the first topical session on “Science diplomacy in Europe” (you can find the agenda attached). The European science diplomacy cluster chose three specific approaches to be discussed in this session:

  1. Science academies as a means to create and sustain science diplomacy: The intervention focused on a thumbnail history of science academies for creating and sustaining science diplomacy and the upcoming activities within the InsSciDE project, including an invitation to nominate a reference person (historian) for each academy and candidates to attend the summer schools (Claire Mays)
  2. Science diplomacy in action – the EU strategy for the Danube region as enabling factor: Light was shed on 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 the S4D4C project in relation to a conceptual broadening of the term science diplomacy. The difficulties identified in relation to the definition and use of the term “science diplomacy” were echoed by several other presenters during the conference as well (Elke Dall and Martina Hartl)
  3. Using science diplomacy to address global challenges: How can the potentials offered by science diplomacy be harnessed for addressing global challenges and what do preliminary results of the S4D4C project, resulting from research done on the complexity of the actor networks and on the interplay of narratives, on the untapped potential of the social sciences and on the opportunities of unintended consequences and implicit science diplomacy, tell us in this respect (Mitchell Young)

In addition, the session on science diplomacy, which was chaired by Hana Sychrová (CAS), brought up some more interesting ideas and incentives for bringing the topic further (including the name and affiliation of the expert who announced it):

  • 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)
  • 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.

Observations on Science Diplomacy in the Danube Region – the European science diplomacy cluster at the Danube Academies Conference in Prague