The second-ever Penn-organized European Think Tank Summit addressed the Ukrainian crisis over spring break.
Penn’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program brought representatives from 38 think tanks across 21 countries to a conference in Barcelona that took place between March 10 and 12. In light of recent developments in Europe, the schedule of the summit was changed to open with a focus on the Ukrainian crisis.
The summit opened with a panel discussion titled “Perspectives on the Current Economic, Political and Security Crisis in Ukraine,” between representatives from the Ukrainian and Russian think tanks in attendance.
A representative from a Ukrainian think tank said that Russia had undermined Ukrainian sovereignty and argued the necessity of demilitarization and a legal solution regarding Crimea. A Russian think tank representative argued that the situation is not a conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, but Russia and the European Union.
Russian think tank representatives described this conflict as rooted in the 1990s, stemming from the West’s obsessive fear of the creation of a new Russian empire.
The discussion provided a “more on-the-ground viewpoint,” said 2011 College graduate and Transatlantic Fellow at the German Ecologic Institute Sydney Baloue. The discussion also “showed how think tanks can act as a hallmark of open society and greater dialogue,” she added.
TTCSP director James McGann also outlined the conversation’s importance in demonstrating the role think tanks can play in the “eye of the crisis.” He said the debate was a “heated exchange, but reasoned” and “very valuable.” He added that the two Russian and Ukrainian think tank representatives sat next to each other amicably on the bus the following day.
The conference, which had a total of 67 participants, consisted of six discussion sessions and addressed many other issues relating to the role of think tanks in Europe.
College senior and TTCSP intern Fadwa Kingsbury explained that one key emphasis of conversation was on think tank networking. Due to the problem that many think tanks compete for funding on a national level, the conversation explored new emphases on international cooperation.
Another key point of discussion was the balancing act think tanks face between conducting in-depth research and needing to respond very quickly to developments, such as the Ukrainian crisis, Kingsbury said.
Areas that think tanks agreed should be prioritized were diversification, identifying best practices and mobilizing resources, McGann said. Emphasis was also placed on engaging policy makers and the public and increasing impact, he added.
Several propositions were made following these ideas. Plans for European Union commissioners to attend parts of future summits are now being developed, for example, Kingsbury said.
She added that the think tanks also discussed developing a legal framework for the organization, such as exists currently in Israel, to increase government involvement with think tanks.
Another key challenge discussed was how think tanks can appeal and attract younger people, College senior and TTCSP intern Kali Hamilton said.
The summit was “a way of enhancing diplomatic ties in a less conventional way,” Baloue said.
Correction: Due to an editing error, the previous subhead of this article indicated that the subject of the conference was the current Ukrainian conference. The story has been updated to reflect that the subhead was referring to the current Ukrainian crisis.
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