English has become the lingua franca in Europe. Can think-tanks bridge the language barrier in Brussels?
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Jul 18 14:13:11 UTC 2007
*Stanley Crossick is the founding chairman and director of the European
Policy Centre[image: external] <http://www.epc.eu/>.*
*The European Policy Centre just celebrated its 10th anniversary. How would
you compare the Brussels think-tank
now and then?
Those organisations properly called 'think-tanks' or 'research centres' have
been strengthened but very few new ones - other than national antennae -
have opened. The think-tank landscape has not, therefore, kept pace with
the increased need for public policy debate.
*When you set up the EPC, with Max Kohnstamm and John Palmer, it was not as
academic as some existing European think-tanks, and initially some people
saw you more as a great networking organisation. What was the initial
ambition, and is it fulfilled now? What would you have done differently with
the benefit of hindsight?*
The leitmotif of EPC was John Monnet's axiom: "Thought cannot be divorced
from action." Although it became a great networking organisation, that was
not uppermost in our minds at the outset. Our objective was to promote
further European integration generally and influence EU policies
specifically, but not on behalf of special interests. EPC has always been
an independent think-tank and is not a representative organisation. We
never sought to be an 'academic' body but recognised the importance of
underpinning our public policy advocacy with sound analysis by able in-house
professionals, supplemented by outside experts in the EPC network.
*In your speech at the anniversary event, you quoted a recent Charlemagne *
*article* [image: external]
The Economist that compared the Brussels think-tanks unfavourably with their
Washington cousins. What's your reaction?*
Charlemagne is rightly critical of the relatively passive role of Brussels
think-tanks. EU decision-making lacks the underpinning of the type of
public policy debate that exists in Washington. In my view there are four
principal reasons for this. First, political, think-tank and business
leaders in Washington interchange within a single "class", whereas they form
three permanently separate groups in Europe. Second, European Union
decision-makers do not seem to value think-tank input to the degree that it
is valued in America. Third, European think-tanks are more reticent than
their US counterparts in seeking to influence decision-making.
And the final reason is that private-sector financial support for
think-tanks is very limited compared with the United States. The
insufficient role played by think-tanks is one of the reasons why there is
so little strategic thinking in Brussels.
*At the same event, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (leader of the European Parliament
socialist group and Danish former prime minister) stated that while
think-tanks such as the EPC are good market places for ideas on Europe,
actually member states are stronger than ever. How could policy debates in
Brussels and in the capitals be better connected? How could better
interaction with national politicians and media be achieved?*
I'm not quite sure in what sense Poul means this. The ultimate authority of
the EU has always been the Council, made up of the member states. There are
many good national think-tanks that also address EU matters. EPC networks
strongly in the member states and frequently has joint activities with
them. It has always interacted with national politicians and media.
*Most think-tanks on European policies work essentially in English, at least
those that are based in Brussels. And the London organisations are quoted
more often than, for example, German think-tanks, which actually produce
many more papers. How could the language barrier be bridged? Can think-tanks
do it themselves, or should they be helped by classical media or new web
English has become the lingua franca in Europe. The examples you cite
highlight national, cultural differences. British think-tank papers tend to
be more mediatic than their German equivalents. Think-tanks need to use all
the communication tools available - in particular the electronic media and,
of course, EurActiv <http://www.euractiv.com/en/>.
*There is talk in EU circles about EU funding for European political
foundations, based on the German model of one 'Stiftung' close to each
party. This would also contribute to politicising debates and making them
more interesting to national audiences. How likely is this to happen? Would
it lead to existing think-tanks taking an even clearer and less consensual
There is more than talk of this. It would politicise the policy debates but
I'm not convinced that such foundations will necessarily successfully reach
out to national audiences. Eurobarometer polls show that political parties
are very unpopular in most EU countries.
*At the Parliament's initiative, the Commission seems to be thinking about
better ways to support and spread EU policy debates, using new technologies.
This may be inspired either by open citizen dialogues such as those that
have animated French campaigns (referendum and presidential) or from
extranet-type discussions between politicians and the media, moderated
before feeding public debates. The discussion still seems very open: any
While the efforts being made are to be commended, the EU institutions do not
have a good record of successfully reaching out to the people. Think-tanks,
academic institutions and all the other constituents of the civil society
need harnessing for this. But they have to have financial support.
Unfortunately, the current financial regulations do not permit effective
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