Think-tanks are relevant actors in shaping the broad conceptual and political debate. They play two fundamental roles: making research, and formulating and disseminating alternative concepts and policy agendas.
They should further be recognised for their competence at pan-European level and have a real influence on political policy-makers, who are involved in elaborating political policy proposals. In their capacity to speak “truth to power”, or to simply bring knowledge, evidence and expertise, they have developed an in-depth knowledge and expertise in all public spheres: economy, politics, science and society. Policy-makers could make the best use of think tanks as sources of innovative policy options and as sounding boards for new approaches.
This is why the Council of Europe has decided to enhance its existing relations with think tanks, a key component of the research sector which can be particularly pertinent for medium-term reflection, and whose new ideas and innovative approaches could represent a meaningful added value for the Organisation policy planning.
The Directorate of Policy Planning is building contacts with major European think tanks and reviews academic work on relevant topics, such as climate change, demographic changes, robotics and ethics, in order to provide Senior Management with strategic expertise and background information.
Task Force Format - Topics to be covered
As a follow-up to the December 2012 meeting of major think tanks, a task force-format with
three different CoE-related focal topics has been decided. According to the main features of the concept, each task force would discuss and work on a central topic or concept which from the CoE’s perspective seems to be of strategic importance in the near or long-term future.
The following three topics were covered by the task forces:
1st group: ‘Smart Power – Ways of Enhancing the Council of Europe’s Impact
2nd group: ‘The Pan-European Dimension: Ensuring the Use of the Council’s Wider European Membership’
3rd group: ‘Challenges to European Societies: Identifying Major Risks and Finding Innovative Policies’
The task forces produced three respective advisory
reports which gave birth to a publication: 'The
pursuit of undivided Europe' (see above). This publication,
which is based on a collaborative project that the
Directorate of Policy Planning of the Council of Europe
conducted with 14 renowned analysts, could be followed by additional cooperation activities such as seminars, lectures or specific workshops.
Meeting of major think tanks (4 December 2012)
Tuesday 4 December 2012, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland
hosted a meeting of directors and representatives from 27
major European think tanks in Strasbourg. The meeting was
part of the Council’s efforts to enhance its impact by
strengthening the collaboration with all relevant actors
having a role in broad conceptual and political debates.
Think tanks have become important actors in many policy
fields and can provide access to new ideas and innovative
In a discussion on the state of European co-operation and challenges to its societies, the participants debated the state of democracy, the management of growing diversity and migration, and human rights standards in Europe. It was repeatedly stressed that the efforts to overcome the present crisis in Europe should be based on the strict respect for European values and its model of solidarity and tolerance. The participants came forward with concrete suggestions on how make better use of the Council of Europe’s potential and capacities. They stressed the continuing relevance of the pan-European format of co-operation.
At the end of the meeting discussions focused on ideas for follow-up dialogue with think tanks as well as on possibilities for specific co-operation projects.
Task force meetings in 2013 and 2014
To date, two out of the three Task forces decided upon
at the December 2012 meeting have met, gathering high-level
and experienced think tank representatives.
First task force,
‘Smart Power – Ways of Enhancing the Council of Europe’s
Impact’ met in Munich, on 27 June 2013. The
was published in January 2014.
This Task force was devoted to general strategic questions concerning the Council of Europe’s role and impact as an international organisation in the future. Major aspects such as the Council’s mandate, its relationship with the EU, capabilities-question etc. were addressed. The following issues were also addressed : How can the CoE’s political impact be enhanced? What strategies could be imagined to make the Council and its work more relevant and visible to societies and governments? What could the relationship between the Council and other international organisations look like and which synergies could be used?
The work of this task force could later result in an
innovative new “political strategy” for the Council of
force ‘The Pan-European Dimension: Ensuring the Use of
the Council’s Wider European Membership’
met in Istanbul on 22-23 April 2013. It addressed the membership and scope of the Council of Europe as one of its key assets. Researchers exchanged reflections in terms of how the Wider European nature of the CoE’s membership can be used more effectively, taking into account the contradictions between the Organisation and its membership. The participants gave their views on the following questions: In what way can the membership of key non-EU members be used to enhance the Council’s role in European affairs? What role does the membership of states in conflict regions [(Balkans, Caucasus)] imply for the Council? How should the Council address the question of challenging non-members ? What could an effective neighbourhood policy [(Arab region, Central Asia)] look like?
cover note by Director of Policy Planning.
The third task force, on “Challenges to European Societies: Identifying Major Risks and Finding Innovative Policies”
is expected to meet later in 2014. It is aimed at addressing the deeper and long-term challenges affecting European societies which have a direct or indirect impact on the CoE’s mission. A starting point should be the identification of major new trends and challenges for European societies such as diversity, demographics, life in urban mega-communities etc. The second task should be to identify the consequences those phenomena have on the Council’s main fields of activity such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In a final step, the question should be posed if those challenges can be properly addressed by established instruments and policies or how new formats could look like.
Publication 'The pursuit of undivided Europe' (Dec. 2014)
prosperous, democratic and respectful of people's rights,
How can the Council of Europe remain and thrive as the continent’s main reference point in terms of human rights,
democracy and the rule of law? Is there a way for Strasbourg to more successfully accomplish the major task of
protecting the human rights of European citizens? How can the Council of Europe, in an ever more multipolar
European order, become an indispensable tool for the realisation of the pan-European idea and a unified Europe from
Reykjavik to Moscow? In what ways does the Organisation have to change in order to account for the dynamics that
have taken place in our societies in the last two decades? What new tasks does it have to strategically take on
and should it modernise itself as an international body? Finally, what can it do to become a “club of democracies”
This publication is based on a collaborative project that the Directorate of Policy Planning of the Council of
Europe conducted with 14 renowned analysts from major European think tanks over almost two years. In three
advisory reports, designed to provide a solid basis for the Council of Europe’s decision makers and future
strategy, the analysts tried to find answers to the questions above and addressed many other highly significant
issues about the Organisation’s continued relevance, credibility and visibility. In a time of profound human
rights fatigue in and beyond Europe, and with a new value divide emerging between different parts of the continent,
the Council of Europe and the think tank community thought it was high time to bring the Council of Europe back into the limelight of European politics."
Link to Publication Pdf version
more on Cooperation with Think_tanks
Advisory report by second Task Force - May 2014
Is the Council of Europe’s big membership of 47 states today an asset or a liability?
Is the pan-European idea, forming the basis of the Organisation’s speedy enlargement in
the 1990s and early 2000s, an outdated concept or does it still hold a promise for the future
of the European project? The CoE includes different categories and regional groups of member
states with seemingly diverging foreign policy interests, but also democracy and human
rights policies. How should the Council approach its Wider European members? Can Turkey
and Russia be accommodated despite their own ambitions to become attractive poles of
integration? Can the relationship with the EU be taken to a higher level, and how can
EU states be motivated to invest more in the Organisation? What about a neighbourhood
policy for the Council? And finally, is there a certain raison d’être the CoE can find
in its membership? The key recommendations included in the
Advisory report prepared by the
second task force ‘The Pan-European Dimension: Ensuring the Use of the Council’s Wider European Membership’ could form the basis of a new approach.
cover note by Director of Policy Planning.
(Strasbourg, May 2014).
Advisory report by First Task Force - January 2014
– Ways of Enhancing the Council of Europe’s Impact”
Advisory Report by the Think-Tank Task Force
(Strasbourg, January 2014)