Science, technology and innovation diplomacy: a way forward for Europe

2019 / 15
Jos Leijten

This policy brief explores how innovation becomes an increasingly important topic in international relations, with a deep impact on collaboration as well as on competition between countries. It analyses how the patterns of techno-economic change lead to changes in the global distribution of innovative activities around the world. It outlines three near future scenarios of the international politics of innovation. The first, called “populism and protectionism” describes an international environment which is becoming dominated by populist and nationalist tendencies. The second outlines the consequences of an approach of “innovation as a global public good”, in which ultimately everybody benefits, and global collaboration is the dominant model. The third scenario is called “bottom-up innovation” and describes what happens to the international dimensions when large international firms and the regions in which they are based become the dominant forces. Together these scenarios describe the range of potential developments over the next 10 years. The final paragraph discusses what Europe can and should do in its external relations to provide adequate answers to the forces outlined in the three scenarios. It results in a vision, which is laid down in four policy directions: a) the European “open” model of research and innovation should remain the starting point; b) Europe should actively seek to build level playing fields for commercial, technological and innovation powers; c) Europe should identify and foster its technological strengths and the critical technologies that need special attention, both in offensive and defensive ways; and d) Europe must identify and spread the key social values and goals (e.g. in relation to quality of life, quality of labour, culture including privacy, and sustainability) that it wants to pursue in its internal and external innovation policies and collaborations. This vision must guide the development of an international innovation policy and the work of innovation diplomats.