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Cooperation with think-tanks
think_tanksThink-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 are to be 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 are expected to produce a strategic report with specific recommendations for decision-making entities at the CoE which would be made public at a later stage and could be followed by additional cooperation activities such as seminars, lectures or specific workshops.
 
Advisory Reports

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.
Read also cover note by Director of Policy Planning. (Strasbourg, May 2014).

Advisory report by First Task Force - January 2014

Smart Power – Ways of Enhancing the Council of Europe’s Impact” Advisory Report by the Think-Tank Task Force (Strasbourg, January 2014)
Meeting of major think tanks (4 December 2012)
meet_Dec_12On 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 approaches.

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 (April and June 2013)
                                                                                        
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.

The First task force, ‘Smart Power – Ways of Enhancing the Council of Europe’s Impact’ met in Munich, on 27 June 2013. The  Advisory Report 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 Europe.

The second task 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?
Read also 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.