This blog post is a follow-up to the presentation “The Aspiration Towards Centrality in the European Research Area: The European Interest in Bringing the Southern Neighbourhood Into the Picture,” given on 11 September 2023, during the virtual panel 104 “The EU as an External Actor I” of the UACES 2023 Conference.
The presentation highlighted some of the main content lines of the forthcoming publication, which examines how research cooperation serves the goals of the European Southern Neighbourhood Policy and the European Research Area. This topic is addressed through the lens of the motivations and pursuits of Europe-based project managers. Following insight obtained from interviews with Europe-based managers funded by EU Framework Programmes, the presentation outlined that many Europe-based project coordinators welcomed Moroccan and Tunisian institutions to the consortium because this would enhance their position of centrality and point of expertise intersections in the European Research Area. Narrative analysis guides multifaceted conclusions. Agency strategies pursued through a scientific focus on the projects serve the overall goals of the European Research Area and the Southern Neighbourhood Policy. European project coordinators function as enablers of the EU’s structural diplomacy. The science diplomacy considerations are secondary and not unified across the examined projects.
Looking beyond this specific presentation, the multiple forms of EU actorness, actorship, and actorhood deserve more attention to acquire a more complete picture of the multiple ways in which the EU engages with the rest of the world. There are many blind spots waiting to be discovered and properly addressed in future research. The EU’s external action toolbox remains to be fully evaluated and its full resonance properly explained. A more in-depth study of several thus far neglected areas is instrumental to making EU engagement more purposeful and targeted and constructing complementarities with higher-value deliverables. This is not meant as a criticism of the existing policy planning, programming, and implementation practices. It is guided by an aspiration to never stop seeking room for improvement and to set even higher sights on research excellence.
Additionally, these follow-up remarks prove the topicality of the panel title “The EU as an External Actor”. This title will remain pertinent for the foreseeable future. The EU open access data repositories offer plenty of options to discover new patterns and less studied constellations of EU-supported encounters across the world that deserve to be more thoroughly examined and discussed during the forthcoming UACES conferences. The lively debate throughout the online session was an opportunity to introduce attendants to other recent scholarly publications addressing contemporary engagement of the EU with various domain-specific diplomacies, such as knowledge diplomacy and connectivity matters.
To conclude, the panel “The EU as an External Actor I” attests that several highly engaged scholars are working towards starting to fill this gap with promising theoretical, conceptual, and empirical choices. The study of perceptions of the EU is on the rise. The way the EU is perceived is of interest to early-career and senior researchers who study diverse regional and geopolitical heavyweight constellations.
Blog post author: Zane Šime