The EU approach to science diplomacy

1 June 2015, European Institute, Washington

Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation

Check Against Delivery

Can you imagine the world today, without air travel, refrigeration or keyhole surgery? American and European scientists and inventors have given many considerable gifts to global prosperity. We are instinctive and effortless partners in scientific endeavour: benefitting from a combination of lasting cooperation and healthy competition.

Your Excellences, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, Good morning!

I'd like to thank the European Institute for giving me this opportunity, to share some thoughts on my work to embed science in EU diplomacy. And I'd like to thank you all, of course, for coming!

The US and the EU make very natural allies in the progress of science and technology. Our unique partnership is clearly central to the prosperity of both continents. And, over centuries, our intellectual and cultural exchange has expressed itself in many forms. Some subtle and some more evident. Ever since the exceptional polymath Benjamin Franklin won over the French court − securing military and diplomatic ties in nothing but a brown linen suit and a fur cap − Europe has learnt from the United States. Learnt of the influential power and charisma of the scientist turned diplomat.

And the United States too, has benefitted from the resourcefulness and imagination of the many European communities it counts among its citizens. Less than a mile from the White House, on 8th street, the Calvary Baptist Church, designed by Adolf Cluss, has stood for 150 years. Its signature red brick exterior, a testament to the influence of a small German-American community − of architects, scientists and journalists − who helped shape the look and customs of this iconic city.

Today, Washington and Brussels face the same questions, posed by an ailing planet. We are confronted by the same struggle to define our democratic roles in a paradoxical age of peace and conflict, of poverty and wealth. I believe science diplomacy presents a matchless opportunity, to address the political, demographic and environmental challenges of the age through the universal language and expression of scientific endeavour.

Today, I wish to highlight the European Union's recent efforts to liberate research from far beyond its own borders, using the elevated language of science to deepen collaboration between nations: to define our dealings with the world by keeping channels of communication, progress and reconciliation ever-open.

The EU approach to science diplomacy, I wish to see, is simple. Investing in science and research for its ability to establish unity, as much as for its ability to stimulate intellectual and economic progress. Known in America for a long time, science diplomacy is an emerging term in the EU context, and a recent one at broader international level.

The Royal Society identifies 3 dimensions of science diplomacy.

  1. science in diplomacy − informing foreign policy objectives with scientific advice.

For example, calling on scientific advice to decide whether citizens are at risk from a natural disaster in a foreign country.

  1. diplomacy for science − facilitating international science cooperation.

In March, I signed Ukraine's Association to Horizon 2020. Ukraine is now able to participate in our largest ever research funding programme, under the same terms and conditions as any EU member state. Part of a huge, multinational effort to push scientific boundaries and improve lives through research and innovation. This major step, both for Europe and for Ukraine, is a clear expression of diplomacy for science: making every effort to support Ukraine's sustainable and self-determined scientific development, based on a relationship of mutual respect and reciprocal commitment.

The third dimension of science diplomacy is perhaps the most poignant.

  1. science for diplomacy − using science cooperation to improve international relations between countries.

The scientific values of rationality, transparency and universality foster common understanding, build trust and promote cooperation between peoples, regardless of cultural, national or religious background. In today's troubled world, the greatest achievements in science diplomacy are when deeds succeed, where words have failed.

In April this year, I was in Jordan, to confirm the EU's observer status in an exceptional initiative called SESAME. Among the mechanisms for science diplomacy, international research infrastructures are among the most tangible, and the SESAME particle accelerator in Jordan is a prime example. SESAME is home to science diplomacy in the Middle East. Projects like SESAME are as valuable for their contribution to stability, investment and employment, as they are to knowledge and science.

They are long term projects that require a great deal of initial investment and cooperation between nations, keeping lines of communication open for future generations to grasp and hold on to. Lines of communication which generate mutual respect and admiration: moving people's hearts as well as their minds.

During his 'Address to European Youth' at the US-EU summit in Brussels last year, President Barack Obama asked, "the question we must all answer – what kind of Europe, what kind of America, what kind of world will we leave behind?"

Emma Lazarus, a 19th century American poetess of Portuguese Jewish descent, answered that question in her sonnet, 'The New Collosus', inscribed within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

She wanted a compassionate future for everyone. A future that welcomed everyone. She pictures the Statue of Liberty as,

"A mighty woman with a torch, […] from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome."

I believe science diplomacy is the torch that can light the way, where other kinds of politics and diplomacy have failed. A torch to illuminate how we can progress in science and innovation side by side. The torch that brightens a doorway to cooperation and communication that is never closed.

I want science diplomacy to play a leading role in our global outreach for its uniting power. Certainly with our closest partners, but, even more so, where it can make an even greater difference: where the political situation is more complex. The European Union has imposed many sanctions on Russia, but one area where we have endeavoured to maintain our strong connection is in the area of research and innovation. Russia is a very active scientific partner of the EU. It is still a welcome partner in Horizon 2020 projects. We are working to maintain this important bridge to Russia, preserving a precious link through the common language and ideals of science.

If it's a more peaceful, more prosperous world we wish to leave behind, the EU approach to diplomacy must use the elevated language of science for its remarkable uniting power. My hope, is for the United States and the European Union to continue to lead by example in this regard. To use our soft power to compete, to succeed, yes. But, more importantly, to benefit research, science and innovation, wherever it finds itself.

The Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation, that was signed two years ago between the US, Canada and the EU, should, in my view, now be extended to countries in the Southern Atlantic: prompting, not only a more complete understanding of how to protect the ocean we share, but also engaging international teams of researchers, whose combined efforts will produce better science for dialogue and conservation.

In summary, our approach to science diplomacy, as democratic continents, should be one in which everyone is welcome. Where channels of communication are always open.

Where peace and prosperity are not the by-products of scientific cooperation, but the end goal.

Thank you.