The Advisory Board for Social Sciences and Humanities, in collaboration with EU Commission services, has organised three important workshops in Brussels during the current year: the first one, held in April 2005, addressed the EU's role in global governance and security. The second workshop, held in May 2005, examined the role of innovation in a knowledge-based economy. Finally the third, held in June 2005, aimed to shed some light on the debate around further integration of social sciences and humanities in other research priorities. A summary of the main outcomes of this last event is included in the section: 'Theme of this issue', while the main outcomes of the first two workshops are summarised below.
The EU as a global player
The EU's role in global governance and security across the world has strengthened in the past decade. Politicians and researchers discussed future research themes for this expanding EU policy in a workshop on 20 April organised by the European Commission's Advisory Group on Social Sciences and Humanities in the European Research area.
Ready for export?
The designers of the EU model had the promotion of regional peace and security as one of their central concerns. The model has proved successful for Western Europe. But is it ready for export? Participants said further study would show if it can be transferred, how and where.
How the EU takes its foreign policy decisions was another key research field. What internal or external factors, such as US policy, influence its foreign policy stand, why and how? Also important is the way the EU and its member governments interact internationally.
Do they always move in the same direction? If not, what is the impact on the EU's effectiveness on the global scene and on its identity?
EU enlargement also loomed large as a research theme. Will further enlargement undermine the EU?
The institutional world order
The EU is a firm believer in multilateralism. Participants wanted more research to understand the EU's past and possible future role in international institutions such as the UN. What are the real challenges? Is there a change in international power structures because of EU influence?
The rise of war-making in global governance was a suggested research area. How effective is war-making in solving problems? What has it achieved compared to what it set out to do? 8 The importance of history was emphasised by one researcher who said: "We cannot begin to understand what to do, unless we have some idea of both how and why we arrived where we are."
A question of values
There was agreement on the need for more research on a minimum platform of values for EU global actions. The dilemma of balancing internal and external security policies is also important. Does the EU 'export' democracy? What interests and values does it project in its external policies? Is it an 'ethical' actor? How does it balance questions of human rights and justice with its commercial and other interests?
And finally, research has to assess if the EU has an impact on third countries. Are its policies effective and does it make a difference to international relations?
Achieving innovation in Europe
Economies need to innovate if they are to grow. This means turning new knowledge into goods and services that create jobs and generate wealth. Top researchers in the field of innovation met in Brussels on 27 May to explore how policies could better promote this process of renewal and change within European companies and across sectors. The workshop was organised by the European Commission's Advisory Group on Social Sciences and Humanities in the European Research Area.
Maria Joao Rodrigues, from Portugal's University Institute of Lisbon, who chairs the Advisory Group, said it was important to identify the building blocks of innovation. The key question was how the EU could build new competitive advantages to sustain the European social model and face the challenges of a changing global economy. This meant looking at each country's specialisation, mode of innovation and welfare regimes.
The broad face of innovation
Innovation has many aspects. It encompasses not only products and services but also how organisations and even labour markets work. It is not just a matter of providing more research and development funding, although this is important, or increasing private investment.
The main purpose of innovation policy is to unleash creativity. This requires more emphasis on learning, on entrepreneurship, on competence building inside companies and the public services, and on making links between companies large and small.
It means, for example, more training and lifelong learning, and a better understanding of what is going on within organisations and between organisations to develop a culture of learning.
Public sector reform urged The public sector came under particular criticism for its rigidity. Participants called for radical reforms of these administrations that are major employers and currently seem to sanction rather than award innovation.
They said government policy had to reflect the broader definition of innovation. Ministries of finance, technology, enterprise, competition and research are obvious candidates to develop more focused innovation policies. But it is also important for other ministries, such as education, employment, social and regional policy, to follow suit. The same goes for universities. They too have to learn to work across disciplines and reach out to companies.
Making use of networks Participants emphasised the crucial role of networks. Building on existing expertise, they facilitate the sharing and utilisation of innovations. For example, bringing together competences in tourism, cultural activities, sport and the environment, they can develop the area of leisure. Clothing, footwear, new materials and design can boost the fashion industry. On mobility, the car industry, transport and logistics can join forces. These networks can connect companies but also universities and the public sector in innovation partnerships.
Predicting the unpredictable
Participants said Europe's large companies are good at exploiting innovations but not necessarily at creating them. The major challenge is to install creativity within these large firms and in the public sector. Today, it is the smaller firms that are taking the innovation lead in Europe. As one participant said, the private and public sectors must strengthen their capacity for change. "Ensuring a climate for creativity is important because we cannot predict the innovations of tomorrow."